LANSING — State Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) introduced House Bill 4719 to prohibit the sale and use of coal-tar-based products in Michigan. These harmful products are commonly used to seal driveways, parking lots and playgrounds. House Bill 4719 will also be known as the “Dr. David James Wilson Environmental Protection Bill.” Dr. Wilson was a true environmentalist and spent his life advocating for environmental issues. Early in her tenure in the Michigan Legislature, Rep. Pagan was approached by Dr. Wilson to discuss the hazards of coal tar sealants and strongly advocated for this legislation. He also led the charge to prohibit the use of coal tar in Van Buren Township in 2015. Unfortunately, Dr. Wilson passed away in 2017, but his work lives on through this bill. 

“Coal-tar-based products are known carcinogens that threaten the health of our children, contaminate our waterways and generate hazardous waste in our communities,” said Pagan. “Thanks to the tireless work of Dr. David Wilson, Van Buren Township became the first Michigan municipality to prohibit the use of coal tar. It is beyond time to pursue a statewide stance on this toxic product and I’m honored to propose this legislation in his memory.”

Coal tar sealants release a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are highly toxic and known to cause birth defects and cancer. According to the Huron River Watershed Council, a person who lives near coal-tar-sealed pavement is 38 times more likely to develop cancer, on average, than someone who does not. In addition to the associated public health risks, PAHs found in coal tar sealant products impact air, soil and freshwater quality throughout affected communities. 

“It seems like every week we are hearing of dangerous new contaminants in our water,” said Pagan. “Unfortunately, the PAH particles have been spreading into our soil, storm drains, lakes and rivers for quite some time now. The Great Lakes region is particularly affected, with 50 to 75 percent of all PAHs found in sediments within the area originating from coal tar sealcoat.”

Many major retailers have stopped selling coal tar sealants and states like Washington and Minnesota have instituted statewide bans. In addition, several other Michigan municipalities have joined Van Buren Township in banning coal tar sealants.