The League of Women Voters of Wilmette has been conducting an advocacy project to ask the Village of Wilmette to ban the use of coal tar based pavement sealers.
The item was referred to the Administration Committee, chaired by Trustee Julie Wolf, for development of an ordinance to implement a ban. The other members of this committee are Trustees Cameron Krueger and Senta Plunkett.
Village Manager Tim Freezer said a ban would be straightforward. The law department needs to look at implementation issues as, unlike in Winnetka which had no business licenses until they introduced one for companies doing seal coating as part of their coal tar ban, Wilmette already licenses businesses. Therefore the Village needs to figure out how to integrate it into existing licensing.
All Board members who spoke seemed supportive of the ban and complimented the EEC for its work. President Bielinski said this is exactly what EEC is designed to do for the Board.
There was discussion about timing of when this would come back to the Board, with mention of the Committee tackling this in January and February and the Board's first meeting in March for introduction of an ordinance. An ordinance would be introduced at one meeting and not voted on until a second meeting so the public has time to comment.
League President Gail Thomason commented as follows:
The League of Women Voters is appreciative of the thorough and comprehensive work of the EEC and agrees with its recommendations. We are glad to see the issue of banning coal tar sealants has reached the Board. We urge a ban of the use of coal tar pavement sealants to keep this dangerous product out of our community.
An expeditious approach would be to use the Winnetka ordinance + in effect for over 2 years - as a model for our own, thus providing consistency for local vendors as well as putting the ban into effect before the next sealing season begins.
Letting another sealing season start without a ban needlessly exposes Wilmette residents and our community to toxic chemicals.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment, and thank you to the Board of Trustees and Commissioners who volunteer their time on behalf of our Wilmette community.
With the promise of warmer weather, homeowners and businesses are poised to engage in the time-honored tradition of sprucing up to welcome our outdoor season. The League of Women Voters of Wilmette (LWVW) asks that all homeowners and businesses resurfacing their driveways or parking lots carefully consider their options. The LWVW believes that there is significant evidence that coal tar sealants used for this resurfacing -- as opposed to asphalt-based products -- are dangerous to humans, native wildlife and local water quality and that safer products are available at similar cost.
Why are coal tar sealants dangerous? Because they contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has conducted research on PAHs for a decade. Coal tar sealants get worn down into particles and carried into homes, released into the air and carried into lakes. USGS found that in areas where coal tar products are used the level of PAHs is 25 times higher, and those living next to seal-coated areas are at a higher risk of cancer.
The coal tar industry argues that these findings do not show a conclusive risk. We believe in the precautionary principle of "do no harm." If an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of scientific conclusions (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action that may or may not be a risk. Think about how long it took for conclusive proof about the health risks of tobacco consumption.
Cities such as Austin,Texas and Washington DC have banned coal tar sealants. Locally, both Winnetka and South Barrington have enacted similar bans. In fact, in the Western U.S., asphalt-based products tend to be used for seal coating, while only the Midwest and East tend to use the coal-tar-based products.
The LWVW has asked the Village of Wilmette to consider enacting such a ban; the Energy and Environment Commission is now considering this issue. There are other available options for sealing at a fairly comparable price; however, they are frequently not offered in areas where coal tar use is permitted. The LWVW believes you should be aware of these issues and we urge you to consider the other options available before sealing driveways and parking lots. Additional information is available on our website, http://www.lwvwilmette.org.
The Board of LWVW
Although the board believes that a Statewide ban on the use of coal tar sealants would be the most appropriate response to the risks of coal tar, the impasse in Springfield makes this unlikely to happen in the near future. Accordingly, the board feels that it is imperative to act at a local level. There are safer, alternative products available to use for driveway sealing but, at present, companies are generally only offering this product to communities that have a coal tar ban. Therefore, the members of the board met with Village Trustees to brief them on the issues and encourage them to enact a coal tar ban similar to Winnetka's and other local communities.
The Village then formulated a series of questions and tasked the Environmental Energy Commission (the EEC) to consider the issue and make a report. The Board provided the EEC with background information and attended and testified at the EEC meetings. The EEC is expected to report back to the Village Board some time in the spring or summer of 2016. The Board feels it is important to move forward with this as soon as possible both because most resealing is done in the Spring and Summer so we are losing a window of opportunity to have an immediate impact and because children spend more time outside playing on driveways and playgrounds when the weather is good so their exposure levels is increased.
Q) What is the difference between crude coal tar, coal-tar pitch, and "refined" coal
A) Coal-tar pitch is the residue that remains after various light oils are distilled from crude coal tar for commercial use. The coal-tar pitch is then separated (refined) into 12 different viscosities, RT+1 (the most fluid) through RT+12 (the most viscous). RT+12 is the viscosity used in coal-tar-based pavement sealcoat.
Q) How can I tell if a product contains coal tar?
A) To determine if the product has a coal-tar base, look for the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number 65996+93+2 on the product Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The words "coal tar," "refined coal tar," "refined tar," "refined coal-tar pitch," or other similar terms may be listed on the MSDS or on the product container.
Q) Is sealcoat used on roads?
A) Use on roads is extremely rare. Occasionally a private property, such as a housing development, will choose to have the roads sealcoated.
Q) Is use of coal-tar-based sealant regulated?
A) Several jurisdictions, including the City of Austin, Texas, the City of Washington, D.C., Dane County, Wisconsin, and several suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, have banned use of coal-tar-based sealcoat. Similar bans are under consideration in other jurisdictions.
Q) Where can I learn more?
A) Several studies have been published about the risks to human and ecosystem health from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are present in coal tar. These organic compounds are toxic, carcinogenic and cause birth defects. U.S. Geological Survey research showed that the largest source, about half, of PAHs in lakes is attributable to dust transported by stormwater runoff from pavement sealcoated with products containing coal tar ash.
A report from the USGS Geological Service is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3010/pdf/fs2011-3010.pdf
Freshwater Future, an organization that works for the healthy future of the Great Lakes waters, has materials at http://freshwaterfuture.org/ourissues/coal-tar-sealants/