Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 18, pp 17409–17424 | Cite as

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) levels in environmental media potentially impacted by reused or stored creosote-treated railway ties

  • Maëlle Cargouët
  • Nicolas Jeannee
  • Bertrand Vidart
  • Patrizia Gregori
Research Article


Disused creosote-treated railway ties are reused in France and many other countries and, in particular, for landscaping and other residential uses. Given the lack of data on the environmental fate of creosote-derived compounds released from used railway ties, a survey of different environmental media (i.e. soil, sediment, surface water, plants and outdoor air) was carried out at six sites located in France where old creosote-treated railway ties are stored or reused for different purposes. Maximum total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations measured in soils ranged from 2 to 140 mg/kg dry weight. PAH impacts were limited both vertically and horizontally to several centimetres from the railway ties. At two sites, PAH levels in plants (up to 140 μg/kg fresh weight) appeared correlated to the levels measured in soils, suggesting a transfer from soils to the plants. PAHs in sediment were measured at concentrations of up to 280 mg/kg dry weight. As observed in soil, PAH concentrations decreased rapidly further away from the railway ties. Principal component analysis and hierarchical clustering on principal components indicate that PAHs detected in soils and sediments originated from unweathered to severely weathered creosote and could be strongly influenced by urban background. Results on outdoor air measurements show a degradation of air quality above old and fresh railway tie storage areas at a railway station and to a lesser extent in their vicinity. However, this degradation was low to moderate when compared to French regulatory values, ambient background levels reported in France, as well as health-based air comparison values.


Creosote Railway ties PAHs Soil Sediment Plants Air Principal component analysis 



The authors would like to thank the town of Clairmarais, Leïla Debiesse from Les Amis des Marais du Vigueirat, Damien Cohez from the regional nature reserve Tour du Valat and Philippe Brunet from Jardinot Le jardin du Cheminot.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_1910_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.9 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1.94 mb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AECOM FranceLa Garenne-ColombesFrance
  2. 2.GeovariancesAvon cedexFrance
  3. 3.Dassault SystèmesVélizy-Villacoublay cedexFrance
  4. 4.SNCF RESEAU, Département Lignes Voie EnvironnementLa Plaine Saint DenisFrance

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