Those same patterns kicked in this past Saturday when I participated with several high school classmates in a breast cancer fundraising walk. We’re old enough now that some of the age and exposure related diseases have affected many of us. Most of us grew up in a city with plenty of opportunity for exposure: the coke plant in town (walking distance to my junior high), the creosote plant for telephone poles and railroad ties, the pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and solvents were always a tell tail sign of which way the wind was blowing. Cancer and chronic disease have affected many and taken some. So to celebrate the victories, mourn the losses, support the afflicted and hope for the future, we gathered to walk together.
Unfortunately the walk started right on a coal tar sealed parking lot! It is like having a cancer fundraiser at a smokers’ convention! The organizers unknowingly exposed the participants to one of the likely chemicals that can cause the very disease that they are advocating against! Very likely the participants in the walk included coal tar sealant dust picked up on the soles of people’s shoes and tracked some distance into the walk.
So here are some suggestions to all future cancer walk organizers:
1. During the planning stages of your event, check the route to see if there is any asphalt paving that has been sealed.
2. If so, contact the owner to find out what product was used.
3. If they don’t know or you want a quick determination, then perform the inexpensive “coffee-tea” test as shown here.
4. If it is coal tar sealant, then contact the owner and your local elected official to let them know that the effectiveness of your event is being compromised by the coal tar sealant. Ask them what they are willing to do about it.
5. Tell them about what you know and maybe print out a simple summary of the problem like our Coal Tar Sealant Infographic.
6. Ask your local and regional elected officials if they would consider an outright ban of coal tar containing pavement maintenance products.
There will be a day when everyone knows the risk and this exposure is just a relic of the past like spraying kids with DDT at the neighborhood pool or doctors smoking in hospitals. Until then, please help us to eliminate this product, city-by-city and lot-by-lot if necessary, across this nation.