The coal tar sealant industry laid out a thick and deep version of reality to Maine's Environment and Natural Resources Joint Committee this week.  The hearing was for a bill introduced by Matthea Daughtry to ban coal tar sealant sale and use in the State of Maine (LD 1212).  Many of the claims were re-treads of well-established industry myths, but there were some new doozies.  Unfortunately it sounded like the Committee members may have been swayed these assertions.  We'll know soon if that is the case.

To help track a reasonable response to these claims, the following table includes a column of "Assertions" by industry representatives and one "Reality" column that is supported by studies or other statements by experts.  Unfortunately no known recording was made of the meeting, but the statements were clear.  I doubt I missed much since many comments were repeated several times.

In the next few days the written testimonies of many who spoke will be made public.  It will be interesting to see if the written words match the verbal claims.

ASSERTION by Industry Representatives
REALITY
PAH values in Austin, Texas have gone up since the ban was passed in 2006. Stated by at least 2 testifiers.
False.  The short answer is that even the industry's own study stated "no net change" and they said 2 years after a ban may have been "too soon" to reach a conclusion.  Listen to the USGS and the City of Austin scientists respond to this here.
 There are no hazardous materials in coal tar sealants.
False.  According to the USEPA, "Coal tar emulsion sealants can contain up to 35% refined coal tar, which is made up of 50% PAHs by mass (NIST 2006)." "PAHs are known carcinogens and are known to be toxic to aquatic life (EPA 1984; Long and Morgan 2000; and Ankley et al., 2003)."
Nothing proven in Maine that coal tar sealants are a problem.
This is called an "argument from ignorance" in logic.  Just because you haven't tested a theory, doesn't make it false.  Keep in mind, this is both a watershed and a parking lot problem.  Just one parking can expose children to high concentrations of PAHs.   It has been shown to be a problem in New Hampshire (Univ. of NH), New Jersey (by the EPA), New York (NY Academy of Sciences), North Carolina, Illinois (USGS), Minnesota (State of MN), Missouri (Univ. of MO) and Texas (USGS and City of Austin).  
Asphalt-based sealants don't last like coal tar or stay black.
False.  Just a few months ago an industry member from New York affected by a county ban stated during a webinar that asphalt based sealers can be just as effective as coal tar sealants if applied correctly. He went on to say that these alternative products are just as black as coal tar. Not all products are of similar quality, but good ones are on the market.
A ban of coal tar pavement sealants will hurt businesses.
False.  Often it is said that alternative products are inferior and that the ban of coal tar sealants will hurt small business. Not exactly says the CEO of Jet-Black Sealant, Nick Kelso. “There are pros and cons to both,” Kelso said. “We don't think (the bans) will affect business in the long-term.”  Jet-Black made the switch from coal tar sealants to asphalt based sealants last year.  They have locations in 9 states including CT, CO, MN and NY.
Coal tar sealants cure better in marginal weather. 
True, but here's why.  Look at USGS's analysis of volatilization which showed massive airborne discharges of PAHs from freshly applied coal tar sealants in the first 24 hours. In other words, the product works well in low drying conditions because it is causing a toxic PAH plume above it.
Is toxic too strong a word for this release? Actually no, since 1 acre of curing coal tar sealant meets a toxic release standard of 1 pound of the most toxic PAH, benzo(a)pyrene in 24 hours. Is extending the sealant season worth this? My vote is NO (see Air Quality and Coal Tar Pavement Sealers, the State of the Science).
The monitoring site at Wolfe's Neck State Park showed PAHs from the atmosphere and not coal tar sealants. 
The predominant discharge of PAHs from coal tar sealed parking lots are from particulate matter, not in the vapor form.  The University of New Hampshire showed these particles are primarily in the soil near the parking lot.  There are no parking lots anywhere near this sampling station and it was designed for airborne collection alone.
Austin's ban was based upon "questionable" research by the USGS. 
False.  After industry complained about a USGS report through the Information Quality Act, the report was changed mostly about term of art and math rounding.  The USGS stated, "The revisions do not change the scientific results of the study or the data presented.

"No data were changed, and none of the additions or revisions have any effect on the scientific conclusions of the study," explained Dr. Barbara Mahler, lead author of the report.  For more on this read the following article: Busting Sealant Myths: "Flawed" USGS Studies.   
The USGS failed to consider other sources of PAHs in their Austin study. 
False.  The USGS study looked at the runoff from a variety of sealed and unsealed surfaces, all of which would be affected by additional sources.  In other words if other sources were high and present on concrete surfaces, then they would yield high PAH runoff.  But they did not.
The USGS failed to consider coal gasification residues in Austin. 
False.  Even the State of Texas agreed with the City of Austin about the link between coal tar sealed parking lots and contaminated creeks.  See a brief video here

One of the committee members asked about the relative concentration of PAHs in coal tar sealants and other products.  Below is a graphic from a USGS presentation showing this comparison.  You can see that coal tar sealants are by far the most potent, mobile source of PAHs.


If you want to read more about these "classic" statements by industry, then check out these previous posts:

The High Cost of Cheap Coal Tar

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