Coal tars

Coal tars can be found in some consumer products. Learn about this chemical and if it's safe for Canadians.

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What are coal tars?

Coal tars are made from the heating of coal at certain kinds of steel mill facilities. Coal tar refineries break the coal tars down to make coal tar pitch and other industrial chemicals.

Coal tar is used as an ingredient in:

  • products for:
    • roofing 
    • aluminum production  
    • industrial furnace liners
  • some driveway sealants
  • some drugs, mainly in the form of shampoos used to treat skin conditions like dandruff

Canadians are exposed to coal tars when they’re released into the air or deposited into soil during their production and storage.

They can also be found in water and house dust. This is mainly from the use and breakdown of driveway sealant products that contain them.

Are coal tars safe?

We’ve assessed coal tars and the potential risk to Canadians. This scientific evaluation is called a chemical risk assessment. It identifies health or safety concerns.

Exposure to coal tars from production, processing and use in products like pavement sealant may be considered harmful to human health.

However, the use of drugs containing coal tar is safe and effective for treating certain skin conditions. These drugs:

  • contain coal tar prepared in a way that makes them much different from the coal tars used in industrial products
  • have a drug identification number (DIN) for authorized use in Canada

Ongoing protective measures

Canada is currently reviewing coal tars and will provide an update after we’ve completed our final assessment. The results from the draft chemical risk assessment are currently open for public comment.

We will continue to monitor the use of coal tars in products sold in Canada. If a product is a risk to consumers, we’re ready to act quickly to protect Canadians from chemical exposure.

To learn more about how Canada reviews chemicals, visit Canada’s system for addressing chemicals.

How can you minimize your exposure to coal tars?

You can minimize your exposure to coal tars by:

  • following any safety warnings and directions on products containing the chemical
  • disposing of products containing the chemical appropriately
  • choosing products (like pavement sealants) that don’t contain coal tar that are available to the general public at retailers
    • some products identify coal tar on their product label if it’s the main ingredient that makes the product work

You may be exposed to coal tars in the workplace. If this is a risk, you should consult with your employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about:

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