Presentation Hopes to Start Ban of Coal-Tar Sealants in Door County

Prepare to be outraged at a public presentation on coal-tar sealants at Crossroads on Jan. 24.

Coal-tar sealants are the jet-black coatings put on many driveways and parking lots. They are dangerous because of the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) they release into the environment, and PAHs are toxic compounds known to cause cancer and developmental problems.

“PAHs are the PCBs and DDTs of our time,” said Jon Richards, a Milwaukee-based attorney who also serves as a consultant for Clean Wisconsin. “We’ve been working with Children’s Hospital as an ally in the move to ban these products because they are particularly carcinogenic to children. Children exposed to PAHs have a cancer rate 14 times higher than the median, so [they pose] a very significant problem for children’s health.”

Richards said Clean Wisconsin and other partners – in this case, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin and the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance – have been holding meetings in Wisconsin communities that border Lakes Michigan and Superior in an effort to ban the use of coal-tar sealants.

“They are the main contributor for PAHs,” Richards said. “People are just now becoming aware of how toxic PAHs are to humans and wildlife. The U.S. Geological Survey has done several studies of waterways in Wisconsin and have found very, very high PAH concentrations in waterways.”

What makes the issue so frustrating is that there are a number of safe alternatives to tar sealants that cost about the same amount.

The first step in ending this pollution hazard, Richards said, is simply making people aware of the problem.

“Regardless of the ideological stripe of communities, people are willing to listen to the science and recognize the harm that’s out there and how to prevent it,” he said. “It’s been a very successful campaign. We’ve had ordinances pass either unanimously or near-unanimously, ranging from the City of Milwaukee to the Village of Elm Grove. Our goal is to have every community along Lake Michigan ban coal-tar sealants. We know PAHs are in the waterways. We are trying to stop this known environmental harm from happening.”

There are a growing number of municipalities banning coal-tar sealants, and they were banned entirely in Minnesota. Just last week, seven Minnesota cities sued manufacturers of the product to help with the cleanup of affected waterways.

“We know that when you pass a ban on coal-tar sealants, it has an immediate and lasting impact on PAH load, and it reduces the PAH load in waterways in a significant manner over time,” Richards said.

The Crossroads coal-tar sealant presentation will begin at 6 pm. Crossroads is located at 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.