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Senior Republican Senator Weighs in On CTS

It is unfortunate that some have attempted to frame the discussion on the problem of coal tar sealants (CTS) as a liberal vs. conservative...

It is unfortunate that some have attempted to frame the discussion on the problem of coal tar sealants (CTS) as a liberal vs. conservative issue (or Democrats vs. Republicans).  The say Democrats are for anti-business environmental regulation and Republicans are for eliminating obstructions to the free market. 

While this may be generally true on some issues, on this one it isn't.  No small business person will pay more in taxes if this material is banned and it will in no way interfere with the ability to successfully operate a profitable business.  This is intended to be a distraction to the real issues at hand.  As a result I thought it would be interesting to detail what at least one senior Republican Senator has said.

In 2006, two ranking members of the Senate Public Works and Environment Committee sent a letter to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for a thorough investigation into the matter.  Senator John Warner (R-VA (ret.)) co-authored a letter to the Adminstrator with Senator Jeffords. 
In case you don't know, Senator Warner's 30-year career in the Senate was longer than anyone other in the State of Virginia's history.  He was known and recongized for his strong support of the military, business, intelligence, and public works.

The key elements of the letter are:

  • The chemicals in CTS have been shown to decrease the number and diversity of biological organisms in streams and are suspected human carcinogens
  • USGS studies about coal tar sealants have national implications
  • This research found increasing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) levels in lakes across the country
  • The EPA granted exceptions to coke oven byproducts (like coal tar) from being classified as hazardous waste because it was thought to not pose a risk to the human population and environment
In addition the Senators asked the following questions of the EPA:


Senator John W. Warner
They completed their letter with the following plea:

We urge the EPA to perform a national study and report its findings on how coal-tar
based sealants increase PAHs in water bodies, and the effects of these PAHs on human health and the environment.
Eventially the EPA responded to some of these requests in a letter to Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).  Expected deliverables from the EPA are:

  • Assessment of the health effects of PAH mixtures.  A draft of this was released in February 2010, but has not been finalized.  The draft showed increased toxicity of PAH mixtures.
  • Runoff studies of coal tar sealants at a facility in Edison, NJ.  The results should be available sometime this year.
Let's hope the EPA begins to find their voice on this topic.  As reported in an earlier blog posting here, the EPA has quietly acknowledged the problem of sealants through their website and individual staff members, but has been reluctant to engage the public or the press to speak about it.  Unfortunately many communities look to the EPA to lead the nation on environmental matters and are left wondering.

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  1. What action is the EPA taking to investigate the application of coal-tar based sealant to asphalt as a major source of PAH contamination in water bodies across the country?
  2. Please specify the EPA's current strategy for controlling PAHs in urban environments.
  3. How will identification of this new source of PAH contamination influence future strategies?
  4. How is the EPA working with its Regional Offices, the States, stormwater liaisons at the federal and local levels, and trade associations to advise communities about this research, its potential implications for aquatic wildlife, and the existence of safer sealant alternatives?

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Coal Tar Free America: Senior Republican Senator Weighs in On CTS
Senior Republican Senator Weighs in On CTS
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