Remember that movie from a few years back called "Waiting for Superman"? In the same way, if you're waiting for someone else to solve this problem, you may be in for a long wait.
But what can one person do to make a difference on this issue?
Great question and it depends.
To guide people to what things they can do, we now have this new entitled "Action." It is located near the top of any page on the site. There you will find some general and specific ways you can help eliminate this product from your community.
One cannot argue with the influence that everyday citizens and local decision-makers can have in their own communities with coal tar sealant use and pollution. I have highlighted many of those citizens here in the past like a retiree in Florida ("Wanted: A Few More Sam Sisiskys Please") to a riverkeeper in North Carolina ("Tar Heal Town Tackles Toxic Sealant") to a former councilmember in Missouri ("Can the Coal Tar Issue Mar and Community's Reputation?") and not to mention the 9,000 or so that signed a petition for a national ban ("Note to Congress: Signatures and Comments Pour in on Coal Tar Sealant Ban Petition").
There are many more who have read the articles and have persistently expressed their concerns to their local decision-makers. Individual citizens have been involved in coal tar sealant efforts in Washington, Minnesota, New York, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina,
Illinois, and Ohio.
I would love to have a series of photos of children's chalk art encouraging people to stop using this product. Of course I would only want kids to draw on asphalt based sealer or bare asphalt, but it would still convey the message.
- Learn if you live in an area that may use coal tar sealants. The best guide I know of is a national survey of sealcoat applicators and their preferred products. Just hover your mouse over the state and find out the percentage. MicroPoll
- Find out if you have any close, probable coal tar sealer hot spots based upon the USGS' 40 Lakes Study.
View 40 Lakes Sampled by USGS for Coal Tar Sealants & PAH in a larger map
While some may disagree with this self-critique, I always try to allow elected and appointed officials to be the first to unveil a problem to the public. Let them be the heroes. Give folks the chance to make a good, well-thought out decision in private prior to being confronted in a public forum. Harry Truman has been quoted to say, "There is no end to what one can accomplish in public service, if you're willing to let others take credit." If they don't, then go public.
Partner with a local environmental organization: These people are often very busy with existing agendas, but frequently they have already been thinking about this and may already have had conversations with local officials. Maybe something is already in the works. If not, ask them if they would support an effort to rid your community of this product.
Ask if your local schools use coal tar sealers. Most likely they won't know if they do. Look for the telltale signs of sealcoat overspray on concrete surfaces near the sealed surface. If they aren't sure, then ask them to run our simple test to check to see what they have. If they have coal tar, then show up to a school board meeting and ask them what they are going to do about exposing children to these chemicals. Tell them the State of Minnesota asked schools to stop using this product before they passed a statewide ban and that the Austin, Texas' schools have a program to remove and remediate their playgrounds and parking lots which have coal tar sealants on them.
If you live in an association, find out what they use and ask them to stop its use. Here's an example of one woman's efforts.
Do you have any nearby that has a biology or engineering school that might be interested in monitoring an urban stream for PAH pollution? This has been done in several locations in North Carolina, and Missouri. Challenge your college to pledge not to use coal tar. Many have a sustainability coordinator or similar title, which may be a good place to start.
Write a letter to your public works director or city engineer and copy the mayor or city manager. Ask them to stop using it themselves and consider banning its use in the community altogether. After getting this response, do a little homework and find out who might be sympathetic to this issue on your local council. Any with a reputation for being concerned with conservation, the environment or community health? Send them an email and start a dialog.
If you have been given a lukewarm reception from your local decision-makers, see if you might interest a local reporter with experience in government, nature or the environment to cover the story. Understand their perspective: what aspects to your story would interest their readership? What have you learned about state and local conditions which would make this story locally relevant? Let them know that major publications have done "above-the-fold" stories on this. If you have a story you think the nation should hear about, then just send me an email to get that started.
There are currently statewide efforts in New York, Indiana and Illinois. If you live in those states, write your representative and send the sponsor of the legislation a note of support. If you don't, find out when they are in session from the below map and write your local representative. The sponsoring legislators are: