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DEP & Industry Pitch to Maine Legislature Far From Perfect

The outlandish statements by industry just keep coming and last week's meeting with Maine's Legislature was no exception. The...

The outlandish statements by industry just keep coming and last week's meeting with Maine's Legislature was no exception. The meeting was a public hearing on LD 1208, An Act Concerning Pavement Products, brought forward by Rep. Mattie Daughtry.

Joining the chorus was Maine's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which continues its distinction as the ONLY environmental agency in the US to ever oppose a coal tar sealer ban.

Testimony from the DEP was from Michael Kuhns, PE, the Director of the Bureau of Land and Water Quality. His testimony was completely oblivious to the facts of the situation, which is a complete disrespect for the legislative process. For example he said that it would just be too difficult to verify what was on the shelves of home improvement stores. If he had any coaching prior to this, he would know that most hardware stores have stopped selling coal tar pavement sealers and that retail sales only make up a very small percentage of overall sealer use. 

We're used to seeing red herrings from the industry, not from regulators.

He said that the regulations in the State of Maine yielded "adequate protection" from coal tar pavement sealers. High cancer risks to children living near a coal tar sealed lot is far from adequate.

Mr. Kuhns was asked if he had read his own organizations recommendation "to avoid" coal tar sealer use. The answer was "no" even though the text is about half a typewritten page which should take less than 5 minutes to read! I've included the text below in case it disappears from the DEP website. Ironically the DEP information piece concludes with "let's all do our part to keep Maine's lakes, rivers and streams healthy." Guess he didn't read that part either.

Contractor Testimony

There were some contractors present who testified about the safety of coal tar sealers and the 
necessity of the product to do their jobs. Sorry to say, but anecdotal stories about the years of exposure are really no more valuable than a 100 year old who says smoking cigarettes was the key to his longevity.

The statement by a contractor that Home Depot and Lowes may not sell coal tar sealers, but they still put them on their own lots is commonly heard around the nation. It was also interesting to hear that the Maine DOT recently specified coal tar sealers. Some have falsely said that no state DOT use coal tar sealers anymore. There are a lot of bids out there which demonstrate the use of coal tar sealers by state agencies is commonplace.

The fact that alternative products exist and are competitively priced was reluctantly admitted to by the representative from GemSeal, who of course said that the use of coal tar sealers is completely safe.

The applicators faithfully parroted key industry myths like "concentrations of PAHs have gone up in Austin" and "all the studies have been in Austin, Texas." If you would like to fact check those statements, then go to these links: 
PCTC's 'Shining' Moment

Over the last month or so, hearings have been held in suburban DC to discuss a ban of coal tar pavement sealers. The Pavement Coatings Technology Council (PCTC) was a no-show at those proceedings which is less than 30 minutes from their offices. Why would they skip the local discussion and travel 600 miles to Maine?

In Maine, do they expect to make absolutely crazy statements (which aren't recorded by the way) and expect that no one will call them on it? Obviously the DEP won't. Statements like:
  • "PAHs are not metabolized by the human body." 
Excuse me, but what is the number one, ever-so-common way to test for human exposure to PAHs? Looking for PAH "metabolites," which are formed from the metabolization of PAHs! The CDC's website says the following:

Once PAHs enter the body, several things occur:

PAHs are metabolized in a number of organs and excreted in bile and urine
PAHs are excreted in breast milk and stored to a limited degree in adipose tissue.
  • "PCTC now has evidence that the USGS has falsified their research for the last ten years." 
That strong statement is backed up no-where in the literature and ignores the research done by more than a dozen institutions around the US which come to the same conclusion as the USGS: coal tar sealers are harmful to humans and the environment.
  • "USGS ignored the presence of a petroleum power plant when studying Austin's decline in PAHs."
Notice that she called it a "petroleum" to conjure up images of icky, oily dirty power. However most of the time it ran on natural gas like we cook with in our homes. It is easy for an industry representative to cast doubt, but let's look at some facts which demonstrate how desperate the claims are:
  1. The power plant ran 99% of the time on natural gas which according to independent testing (EPRI) produces undetectable PAHs.
  2. The 1% fuel mix included fuel oil where a federal study of the Holly Plant (ATSDR) said the PAH contribution was "negligible."
  3. The maximum volume of several spills of fuel oil was 20,000 gallons. Even if this all turned to PAHs through burning and somehow all of it returned to the water, it represents significantly less than 1% of the quantity of coal tar sealer used in the contributing watershed.
So why was it "ignored"? The same reason "space dust" wasn't included: coincidental, but extremely small contributions may be interesting, yet irrelevant.

True Bright Spots

Support of the legislation came from two welcome sources:
  • The Maine Municipal Association
  • Maine Water Environment Association. The state branch of the Water Environment Association, who has supported both legislative briefings to the US Congress on the matter of coal tar pavement sealers.
This week the Environment and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to decide if they think it should pass on to the Legislature for a vote or not. Unfortunately they may still have those out-of-pitch DEP and industry statements ringing in their ears.


There are basically two types of driveway sealants on the market today. The first type utilizes a base made from coal tar and the second utilizes a base made from asphalt. The bases make the difference in how toxic the sealant you put on your driveway is for you and any stream or lake in your neighborhood.

You might be thinking “wait a minute, what does my neighborhood stream or lake have to do with driveway sealant?” The reason is that research conducted in Austin, Texas found high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, in some of their local streams. PAHs are linked to various health issues including cancer. The research was able to trace the PAHs back to pavement sealers used on parking lots and driveways. They found the average concentration of PAHs to be 1,600 times higher in liquid coal tar-based sealant products than in liquid asphalt-based sealant products. For this reason, coal tar-based sealants are a potentially higher health risk than asphalt-based sealants.

But how do these PAHs get from the driveway or parking lot into the neighborhood stream? When it rains or the snow melts, the stormwater carries with it little hitchhikers of whatever it hits or runs across, including pavement sealants. The polluted stormwater runoff, now containing PAHs, runs off the pavement to a storm drain or ditch which drains to the local stream. In the Austin study, they found that particles in runoff from parking lots sealed with coal tar sealants were as much as 65 times higher in total PAHs than runoff from unsealed pavement.

A report from the Great Lakes Environmental Center in March 2005 showed that coal tar sealants in sediments were toxic to aquatic life in streams at the concentrations observed in Austin streams.
So if you are considering sealing your driveway or parking area this summer, read the labels to avoid coal tar-based sealants and choose an asphalt-based sealant. The asphalt-based sealants may cost a bit more but they are more environmentally friendly and less toxic for you and our waters. Let's all do our part to keep Maine's lakes, rivers and streams healthy.

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Coal Tar Free America: DEP & Industry Pitch to Maine Legislature Far From Perfect
DEP & Industry Pitch to Maine Legislature Far From Perfect
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Coal Tar Free America
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