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A Worry-Free Guide to Implementing a Coal Tar Sealant Ban

I've heard a lot of speculation over the last few years about how difficult it is to implement a ban of coal tar sealants.  Most of ...

I've heard a lot of speculation over the last few years about how difficult it is to implement a ban of coal tar sealants.  Most of the time it is from purported experts that are attempting to make it seem "just too hard" or those that are just guessing and haven't done their homework.  No more guessing, this is being written by the person that helped craft the first ban in Austin, worked to get it implemented, and then oversaw the enforcement program for 5 years. 

A coal tar sealant ban can be implemented:
  • as part of a community-wide effort to reduce toxins and water pollution
  • with minimal additional workload to staff
  • with no expensive equipment to buy
  • with no fees or costs to applicators (unless they are in violation)
  • with no delays to applicators
The key elements to a ban are:
  1. Clear Ban Language
  2. Communications Plan
  3. Enforcement Staff Training
  4. Enforcement Strategy
Clear Ban Language

Just like any other ordinance, a ban should seek to encourage compliance without unreasonable consequences.  For example one community passed a ban that had such a low penalty for violations that it didn't discourage applicators from using coal tar sealants.  It was just a cost of doing business.  On the other hand, if the remediation of a violation is so expensive that it will bankrupt the applicator, then that is also a problem.  Let your community attorney give some guidance after you've figured out the going rate for a remedy.

Speaking of remedies, what are you going to do if you do have a violation?  My suggestion is to remove it, if it is anything but a low traffic volume driveway or very small parking lot.  See this reference for information on how to do this.

Communications Plan

Before you start, you'll need to do some homework.  Figure out where or if coal tar is sold retail and where commercial applicators in your area go to get their sealant. 

The best way to ensure a successful, low-cost enforcement program is to communicate with your community.  Use what media you have to put the word out.  Others have used community newsletters.  The City of Austin included a piece in the electric utility's flier as well.

Figure out who the largest users in the area are for sealants.  Typically they are:
  • Schools
  • Commercial stores
  • Industrial sites
  • Churches
  • Apartments and condominiums
  • Hospitals
Send them a letter telling them about your ban a few months before it goes into effect.  Be sure to let them know when it is effective so they don't think you are coming after them for a past sealant job. 

Let your local applicators know by letter as well. 

If the retail sale of coal tar sealant is banned, then contact both the store manager and the regional manager of the store if it is a chain. These folks have thousands of products to juggle and my experience is that it is best to have more than one person in these organizations mindful of your ban.

Now this next recommendation will go a long way to having a successful ban implementation.  Most likely you will have applicators coming a long distance to your community to apply sealant.  They get regional contracts with chain restaurants and big box stores and may travel over a 1000 miles to come to your town.

You need to prevent the application of coal tar by these out-of-town applicators.  The good news is that most often they come to town, fill up at the local distributors of sealants and drive to their jobs.  If you can get the support of these distributors to post signs like "Attention: Coal Tar Sealants Banned in Anywhere, USA", then you can educate them before they make a big mistake.  By the way, the farthest I've seen someone drive in a load of sealant is about 200 miles. 

Enforcement Staff Training

Most likely you will need to find one person that "owns" this, meaning that they are willing to learn something new, have a desire and some experience in regulatory enforcement, and are willing to become somewhat of a content resource in this area.  Some knowledge of construction would also be helpful.

Some communities have offered to train enforcement staff for others.  Austin did this for Washington, D.C..  If you know of a ban near you, contact them and see if your go-to person can "shadow" their enforcement staff for a day or so.  Otherwise, contact this blog for assistance.

Have your staff learn the "coffee-tea test" for the difference between coal tar and asphalt based sealants.  This low-cost, screening technique using materials found in any hardware store is on this website, here.

In other parts of the country, some communities have discussed having one enforcement person for several suburban communities.  This may work if several bans go into effect at about the same time.  For a city the size of Austin though, there is just one part-time enforcement person.  That's for the nation's 16th largest city with a population over 700,000.

Enforcement Strategy

And these leads to the final element, Enforcement Strategy.  Learn the limits of the pavement sealant season in your area.  In southern states in can be more than 9 months out of the year, but in some northern states the season is less than 3 or 4 months.  This will enable your enforcement to be attentive to changes in parking surfaces during this period.

And speaking of attentive, here is another way to broaden your enforcement capabilities.  Train other field staff to recognize the tell tale signs of a new pavement sealant job.  Have them pay particular attention to the largest lots.  Make a list of what they are.

Many governmental workers are in the community as part of their normal job duties.  If they suspect a new sealant job is taking place, then the can contact your key enforcement person.  This way you increase your eyes in the community and increase your chances of success.  Over time you and your staff will learn to differentiate between the compliant sealant companies and those that aren't. 

This post is intended to show that a sealant ban can include these 4 elements of a ban and it can be done with minimal distraction to existing staff, without a regulatory burden on the business community and without raising taxes or fees.  Specific questions or comments are always welcome.


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Coal Tar Free America: A Worry-Free Guide to Implementing a Coal Tar Sealant Ban
A Worry-Free Guide to Implementing a Coal Tar Sealant Ban
Coal Tar Free America
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