Coal tars

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About coal tars

Coal tars are made when coal is heated at some steel mill facilities. Coal tar refineries break the coal tars down to make coal tar pitch and other industrial chemicals.

Coal tar is used in:

  • aluminum production
  • some roofing products
  • industrial furnace liners
  • some driveway sealants
  • some drugs, mainly in shampoos that treat skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis

Canadians are exposed to coal tars when they're released into the air during production.

They can also be found in stormwater runoff and house dust. This is mainly from the use and breakdown of driveway sealants that contain them.

Safety of coal tars

Under Canada's Chemicals Management Plan, we review and manage the potential risks that chemical substances can pose to Canadians and the environment. We have recently completed our final chemical risk assessmentfor coal tars.

Our final assessment has confirmed that exposure to coal tars may be harmful to our health. In particular, Canadians can be exposed to health risks from coal tars from the following 3 sources:

  1. household dust in homes near driveways where coal tar-based sealant products are used
  2. emissions from nearby coal tar refineries
  3. emissions from steel mills where coal tar is released as a by-product of coke production

However, it is safe and effective to use drugs containing coal tar as directed for treating certain skin conditions. These drugs:

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

What we're doing

To reduce Canadians' exposure to coal tars, we are proposing to:

  • ban the import, manufacture and sale of coal tar-based sealant products in Canada
  • require coal tar refiners to develop pollution prevention plans to prevent and control their emissions
  • review effectiveness of current provincial and federal measures designed to manage coal tar-related emissions from integrated steel mills

What you can do

Consumers are reminded to:

  • read product labels and follow all safety warnings and directions
  • dispose of products containing the chemical properly
  • choose products, like driveway sealants, that don't contain coal tar
  • contact the manufacturer if you are unsure if the product contains coal tars

If you're exposed to coal tars at work, talk to your employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about:

For more information

For industry and professionals

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