Creosote is a term that every homeowner with a fireplace should know. If one were to look up inside of their chimney, they would likely see creosote buildup, at least if it has not been cleaned in some time. That nasty, black, tar-like goo that is starting to buildup on the inside of the walls is creosote. It is a dangerous, flammable substance that should be removed.
Creosote is commonly found as a preservative in wood and coal. When these substances are burned in a wood or coal burning stove or fireplace, they rise through the air and accumulate in the stovepipe or chimney flue. If this substance is allowed to buildup, it can and will create a fire. As little as one eighth of an inch is enough to ignite.
If exposed to creosote, a person can experience a variety of health issues. Most notable are the blistering or peeling of skin, oversensitive to sunlight, and eye damage. If someone eats or drinks products that have been contaminated with creosote, they will experience severe stomach pains as well as burning in their throat and mouth.
When disposing of creosote, it is important to do so properly. If the creosote is introduced to the local water supply or soil, anyone coming into contact with the substance is in danger. Burying the creosote locally can represent a significant danger to any children playing the area. If the soil were to touch their skin, parents would notice significant skin rashes.
With so many potential health issues related to creosote, homeowners are advised to at the very least, schedule annual cleanings of their chimney. Hiring a professional to both inspect and clean the chimney ensures the homeowner the task is done properly and that their fireplace is in fact safe to use. If the fireplace is used regularly, it is suggested to schedule an additional inspection and/or cleaning during the winter months as well.