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Calling Out and On Stormwater Professionals: Take a Stand Against Coal Tar Sealers

I'm calling on stormwater professionals to do the unexpected: put your name out there as someone who supports the increased regulati...


I'm calling on stormwater professionals to do the unexpected: put your name out there as someone who supports the increased regulation of toxic, coal tar pavement sealers.

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. 
A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. 
A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the last ten years, we have learned that coal tar pavement pollution creates a rare situation confronting stormwater professionals: direct human health effects from a stormwater pollutant. Contaminated dust in apartments with coal tar sealed parking lots increase cancer risks to children over 38 times. This prompted the Baylor University toxicologist to say:
"The increased cancer risk associated with coal-tar-sealed asphalt likely affects a large number of people in the U.S. Exposure to these compounds in settled house dust is a particularly important source of risk for children younger than six years of age, as they are expected to ingest this material at higher rates."

Yet, the practice of using coal tar sealers even on playgrounds continues through much of the US. The USGS and Baylor University has found that the cancer risk rates rival that of Superfund sites.

In 2015 research showed the runoff from surfaces sealed with coal tar products are toxic to common aquatic organisms over 100 days after application even though the product information states that a mere 24 to 48 hours of curing is sufficient.

In short, over 15 federal, state, university and local entities have concluded there are major problems with this product.

And a recent Water Environment Federation poll found stormwater professionals desire regulatory changes that drive actual stormwater improvements. Within just 10 years after a coal tar sealer ban went into effect Austin, Texas, the PAH pollution in their major receiving waterbody dropped 58%!

Speaking of the Water Environment Federation, they recently took a pass at making a stand against coal tar sealers!

During this time communities across the country have banned this product. These 18 million Americans under a ban represent less than 10% of the US population. Yet many efforts to regulate the use of coal tar pavement sealers have failed, due in part, to a lack of strong support from professionals and the community at-large.

However some stormwater professionals have spoken up to eliminate product from their communities through state agencies, local governments and consulting firms performing master plans. I know of many stormwater professionals who work behind the scenes to influence the process. The sad reality is that fear exists in letting that support be known to colleagues. Nonetheless welcome support has come from local, regional or state organizations like the:


The fundamental question here is this: do we as a community of professionals know enough to take action? Are we prepared to speak up in our communities? Or are we putting our hopes into a national or regional legislative agenda without the requisite support to get such legislation to pass?

Are stormwater professionals the types who wait for others to tell them how to do stormwater management, or will we lead our communities and this continent? Will we wait for others to take this on? Or will we presume it is the role of non-profit, environmental organizations?

Let’s not be na├»ve here. A strong contingent exists in the industry which opposes any attempt to regulate their products. If you speak up in your sphere of influence, you may be vilified, deemed “too political” by your colleagues, be denied the ability to speak, or suffer economic consequences. Are we willing to do this as a community of professionals? This is generally uncharted territory for our profession, but all of those have happened to spoke up on this issue.

Yes this industry is at a crossroads. On the one hand, is the path of abdication, where we relegate the responsibility of setting the agenda to others who are willing to speak up or the other, which is a path of leadership and commitment beyond paychecks and platitudes. If you are willing to do the latter, then I would encourage you to sign your name in the comment area of this article. The commemoration of Dr. King's birthday is to be one of service to your community. Many of you could do that here.

“We stand now where two roads diverge... The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road-the one less traveled by-offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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Coal Tar Free America: Calling Out and On Stormwater Professionals: Take a Stand Against Coal Tar Sealers
Calling Out and On Stormwater Professionals: Take a Stand Against Coal Tar Sealers
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Coal Tar Free America
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