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Coal-Tar Driveway Sealants


It won’t be long now before spring is in the air, along with volatilized pollutants from lawn treatments and driveway sealants. If installing a new driveway, choose anything but blacktop. If you have inherited a blacktop driveway, choose asphalt, not coal-tar sealants. Not only are the PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) a major contaminant of local rivers; they are linked to serious health consequences like cancer and birth defects and found at high levels in homes that use coal-tar sealants. It makes me cringe when I remember that we used this product around Katherine. No one wants regrets like ours. The USGS (United States Geological Survey) has the best information on coal-tar sealants; they find that

  • Dust from pavement with coal-tar-based sealcoat has greatly elevated PAH concentrations compared to dust from unsealed pavement.
  • Coal-tar-based sealcoat is the largest source of PAH contamination to 40 urban lakes studied, accounting for one-half of all PAH inputs.
  • Coal-tar-based sealcoat use is the primary cause of upward trends in PAHs, since the 1960s, in urban lake sediment.
  • Residences adjacent to parking lots with coal-tar-based sealcoat have PAH concentrations in house dust that are 25 times higher than those in house dust in residences adjacent to parking lots without coal-tar- based sealcoat.
  • PAHs move from a sealcoated surface into our environment by many mechanisms: storm runoff, adhesion to tires, wind, foot traffic, and volatilization.coal_tar_dispersal-credit-City-of-Austin-1024x456


You can learn more at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3010/pdf/fs2011-3010.pdf And be prepared for disinformation from the industry. Last year, Benedictine hosted a small event with USGS scientists on this subject. Industry hacks and their lawyers followed this scientist from one speaking event to another, asking misleading questions and trying to dominate conversation. I had never before seen in action the deliberate effort to create doubt about health effects as a way to confuse consumers.



  1. Tom Ennis says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful article on toxic coal tar pavement sealers. I was pleased to find it in Twitter.

    I am sorry for the loss of your daughter, but I can feel the fire it has stirred in you through your writings on pesticides and toxics. Please continue your work both here and in the public square because it is so needed!

    Please drop me a note to talk about some future collaboration.

  2. […] injustice: read more about the Lautenberg Act on the EDF website, work to eliminate pesticides and other chemicals, and, most important, vote the environment so that we can pass more such life-saving […]

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