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Chicago Suburbs' Unexpected Encounter with Coal Tar Sealers

A few years ago, a watershed management group in the Chicago suburbs set out to find why their streams poorly supported aquatic life. They e...

A few years ago, a watershed management group in the Chicago suburbs set out to find why their streams poorly supported aquatic life. They expected to find that the main culprits were heavy metals, which are common urban pollutants. Instead they found the principal pollutant was coming from coal tar pavement sealers.

Recently Stephen McCracken, the Director of Watershed Protection for The Conservation Foundation, spoke to a group of citizens about the research conducted by the DuPage River/Salt Creek Work Group (DRSCW).

The gathering was sponsored by Representative Laura Fine, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, and the Sierra Club.

The DRSCW is a consortium of Chicagoland suburban communities, representing all or part of 39 municipalities, more than 360 square miles and about 1,000,000 citizens. Click on the image of the video below to see the presentation.

The DRSCW embarked on an ambitious watershed study which may be among the most rigorous ever performed in the State of Illinois.

Why? According to McCracken, the aquatic life support in this region was "failing miserably." The idea of the Workgroup is to collectively work together to find out real watershed issues so that they may be addressed instead of arbitrary or unfounded pollutants which could cost these communities millions of dollars.

So instead of metals here's what they found. DuPage County has the greatest frequency of high PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) sediment levels ever found in the United States. Austin, TX passed their ban of coal tar pavement sealers with just 13% of creeks exceeding a standard biological effects concentration. Springfield, MO found about 48% of their creek-sediment test sites exceed this concentration, but in the DRSCW combined watershed area, 76% exceeded these values! With very little industrial use, it is most likely that this is caused by the use of coal tar pavement sealants.

This site has covered the activities of the DRSCW before. In 2012, we reported from the minutes of the group's meetings that all member communities signed on to a moratorium on the governmental use of coal tar sealers. Later it was learned that only a dozen or so communities signed up.

So let's state the obvious here.

To the industry representatives that whine that this issue is an orchestrated witch hunt based upon preconceived "white hat bias," this is yet again a group of scientists, with no agenda coming to the same conclusion: coal tar sealers are a major contributor, not just to PAH problems, but to overall stream health.

To the people and representatives of DuPage County and the Salt Creek area: you fund this group to give you answers; they have and you have done next to nothing over the last five years to address this issue. The government use restrictions are a beginning, but they likely address a small percentage of the problem. In other words, the commitments by local governments, even if they all sign on, to curtain their own use of this product will have inconsequential affect on the sediment toxicity of your region.

It's time for you to take on this issue yourselves and not wait for Springfield to do it for you.



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Coal Tar Free America: Chicago Suburbs' Unexpected Encounter with Coal Tar Sealers
Chicago Suburbs' Unexpected Encounter with Coal Tar Sealers
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Coal Tar Free America
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