University of Michigan Continues Its Pledge to be Coal Tar Free

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the University of Michigan for quietly sticking with their commitment to be free of coal tar sealants.  A recent report chronicles their efforts that are part of their “Good Housekeeping” provisions of their NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) stormwater permit. They reviewed over 150 construction plans for conformity with this standard.  The report goes on to

  • University projects that involve sealing parking lot surfaces incorporate the NPDES permit language prohibiting coal tar emulsions to seal asphalt surfaces.
  • Coal Tar Asphalt sealants were not used on the UMD (Dearborn) campus.
What was the origin of this effort?  I don’t know.  A statewide ban was introduced in Michigan’s legislature by Ann Arbor Senator Rebekah Warren in 2009 after the University of Michigan’s prohibition went into effect.

Whatever the source, the Michigan story is an interesting one (as far as state permits go).  Last year I got an anonymous tip presumably from a State of Michigan government employee about a rash of coal tar sealant prohibitions throughout the state in 2008.  I doubled checked that source which led to my understanding that at least 70 stormwater permits throughout Michigan was the provision for the permittee to stop using coal tar sealants.  Technically the permits should be referred to as “government use restrictions” because they appear to restrict the use of sealant by the unit of government, but not the jurisdiction that they govern.  I have since found these provisions in other NPDES permits around the country.  The text of the comment is at the end of this post in italics.

According to several sources, the sealant prohibition was a small part of sweeping changes that many of the communities had real problems with.  They challenged this in court and as of now, most Michigan permittees have reverted back to their 2003 permits.

I must confess I don’t know the full story in Michigan, but my gratitude for these efforts continues nonetheless.

Anonymous Post:

I greatly appreciate this resource where the State of Michigan can access both well known and also obscure information to support a ban of CTS. Michigan’s efforts to date to ban CTS have flown under the radar on a national scale, and unfortunately they have run into some snags here too. In May 2008, Michigan issued two Phase II general permits for municipal separate storm sewers, and each included a CTS ban. The permits prohibited Municipal permittees from using coal-tar based products on their own properties. These permits were issued to approximately 230 municipalities by October 2008, and the bans went into effect. Unfortunately, in early 2010 the state was sued over several conditions of the permits, and the permits were withdrawn late last year. The coal tar ban was not a major reason for conflicts with the permits, but it got thrown out with the bathwater. The point I’d like to make is that Phase II MS4 permits are still a good vehicle to get CTS banned from use on large expanses of impervious surfaces in urban areas. As a result of the State’s regulatory effort, the Michigan Department of Transportation instituted their own moratorium on the use of coal tar sealers at rest areas and their maintenance facilities, which began about 2006 or 2007. In 2010, there was a bill proposed in the State Legislature for a statewide ban. However, budget battles overshadowed that effort, and the November election ushered in an all new legislature. Nothing more has been heard of statewide legislation under the new leadership. The information you make available about what’s going on in other states may help rekindle efforts here. Although I work for the State of Michigan, I did not seek approval to represent the State in this blog, so I am choosing to remain anonymous. The statements are my own and do not necessarily represent the great State of Michigan, but I thought it would be helpful for people to know that there have been several efforts here to institute bans, even if it has been under the radar.
By Anonymous on Another State with a Municipal Coal Tar Sealant Ba… on 4/20/11