Communities in the Great Lakes region are taking action as awareness about the serious ecological and human health hazards increase associated with coal tar sealcoats on our driveways and parking lots.
In a previous issue of Freshwater Voices, Freshwater Future reported that scientific findings, primarily from from the U.S. Geological Survey Division and Baylor University, identified coal tar sealcoats applied to driveways, parking lots and other surfaces, as a major source of dangerous chemicals (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs) in streams and lakes adjacent to its application. Also, findings conclude there is a significant health risk to the public, especially young children, who use and live by these coated driveways, parking lots, and surfaces. In fact, for someone who spends their entire lifetime living adjacent to coal tar sealcoated pavement, the average excess lifetime cancer risk is estimated to be 38 times higher than the urban background exposure.
This past August the City of Winnetka, IL banned the use of coal tar sealcoats in their community. A Chicago Tribune article noted Trustee Richard Kates stated “The U.S. Geological Survey does not have an ax to grind,” who voted in favor of the ban. “There are states that have banned it, and cities that have banned it.”
Even more recently, the communities of White Lake Township and Byron Township in Michigan passed resolutions to not use the product on municipal properties. “The decision made sense,” noted Audrey Nevins Weiss, supervisor of Byron Township, in Michigan.
“Our township, situated in the heart of West Michigan in Kent County, was pleased to pass a resolution committing not to use coal tar sealcoats on its property. Our trustees know that local residents value the quality of natural resources in our township and care about preventing pollution. Passing the resolution means that we will prevent pollution of water resources and protect people’s health, especially young children. We hope also to set a good example for our residents and encourage them to choose safer alternatives for taking care of their driveways and parking lots.”
-Audrey Nevin Weiss, Byron Township Supervisor
Right now, more than a dozen other communities around the region are considering taking similar actions. However, communities are most likely to act if they hear from their residents. We encourage you to contact your local unit of government and let them know you are concerned about the use of coal tar sealcoats in your community and want them to learn about this issue and take action. If they want more information, you can direct your local officials to our webpage.