LANSING — State Representative Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) introduced today House Bill 5174, which would prohibit the use and sale of coal-tar based products in Michigan. Coal tar sealants, which are commonly used to seal driveways, parking lots and playgrounds, release a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are highly toxic and known to cause birth defects and cancer. The bill comes just days after the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees passed a local ban on the use of coal tar and other high-PAH sealants.
“Coal tar driveway sealcoats present a real health and safety risk for Michigan residents, and are damaging to our air and waterways,” Pagan said. “I am proud to represent Van Buren Township, which just passed Michigan’s first municipal ban on coal tar sealant, and am excited to lead the charge for a statewide ban on the sale and application of this toxic and all-too common product.”
According to the Huron River Watershed Council, a person who lives near coal tar seal-coated pavement has a cancer risk 38 times higher, on average, than someone who does not live in close proximity to coal tar seal-coated pavement. During application of coal tar sealcoat, PAHs volatize into the air and affect air quality. As the sealcoat weathers, dust from pavement is tracked into homes via shoes and clothing, and rain loosens PAH particles, which spread into soil, storm drains, lakes and rivers. The Great Lakes region is particularly affected: 50 percent to 75 percent of all PAHs found in sediments within the Great Lakes region have been shown to come from coal tar sealcoat.
“When we learned about the many impacts associated with coal tar sealcoat, we felt compelled to do something about it, both for the river and for residents of our watershed,” said Rebecca Esselman, watershed planner with the Huron River Watershed Council. “We hope that by increasing awareness and advocating for local ordinances banning the products, we can grow the support necessary to see coal tar and other high PAH sealants banned throughout the state.”
Many major retailers have stopped selling coal tar sealants. Washington and Minnesota have instituted bans on coal tar sealant, as has Washington, D.C. Municipalities in Texas, Wisconsin, New York, Illinois and Maryland have also passed local bans on coal tar sealant.
“A ban on these products reduces the risk of cancer from exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, eliminates a source of toxic contamination in our streams, and eliminates a source of contaminated sediment that must be disposed of as hazardous waste,” said David J. Wilson, member of the Van Buren Township environmental commission and former professor of chemistry and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University. “I am absolutely delighted to see Rep. Pagan proposing such a ban at the state level. We must work to ban this known carcinogenic material that impacts our children, that contaminates our streams, and that generates a hazardous waste in our communities.”