|Photo from NASA|
Yesterday the Pavement Coatings Technology Council held an online seminar entitled, “How to Fight for Your Sealcoating Business.” During the 60 minute seminar participants were informed about two major topics: the Suffolk County, New York ban of coal tar pavement sealant and a presentation by a representative of the nation’s largest producer of coal tar, Koppers, Inc.
The first part featured a sealant producer from Long Island that was affected by the ban there. The company had to add equipment to switch over to an asphalt-based material. They were confused on their timeline saying they only had 3 months to prepare for the new material, but actually they had about 1 year.
In a moment of transparency, the gentleman from Velvetop stated that asphalt based sealers can be just as effective as coal tar sealants if applied correctly. He went on to say that these alternative products are just as black as coal tar, but there are some challenges with applying it when drying conditions are sub-optimal. Why are coal tar sealants better in these conditions? Look at USGS’s analysis of volatilization which showed massive airborne discharges of PAHs from freshly applied coal tar sealants in the first 24 hours. In other words, the product works well in low drying conditions because it is causing a toxic PAH plume above it.
Is toxic too strong a word for this release? Actually no, since 1 acre of curing coal tar sealant meets a toxic release standard of 1 pound of the most toxic PAH, benzo(a)pyrene in 24 hours. Is extending the sealant season worth this? My vote is NO (see Air Quality and Coal Tar Pavement Sealers, the State of the Science).
The two gentlemen from Velvetop seemed like nice men caught in a tough situation. For all of you applicators out there, be careful not to abandon your own reasoning abilities in understanding this issue. I know many of you haven’t, but many have. Some want you to believe this is just all too complicated for you to understand. Forget the dizzying ratios and foggy fingerprinting and focus on product and pavement. Is this material toxic on the pavement as it is placed? Yes. Is the dust coming off of it higher in PAH concentration than you would see from any other mobile urban source? Yes. Does this have the potential to harm the environment and our children? Yes. As Dr. Barbara Mahler of the USGS says in the video below, “It’s not that complicated of a story.” Why wouldn’t the industry want to make this as clear as possible to you? I’ll let you answer that one.
Other notable moments in the webinar were:
- “be honest and straightforward” is the new motto of the PCTC which is a departure from the recent past. Let’s start with a full disclosure of the concentrations and effects of the product. Maybe meet a European standard that you won’t use your product until you prove that it doesn’t harm people or the environment.
- Space junk and volcanoes are notable sources of PAHs (WOW, got a reference for that?)
- “never any indication that there is a health problem.” Even I know of men who have worked with coal tar who have died of cancers at a young age, while impossible to link definitively, makes you wonder if there wasn’t a connection. No mention of recent coal tar sealant cancer risk studies by Baylor University (see Decoding the Coal Tar Sealant to Cancer Connection). Since the most affected population is children, unless you violate child labor laws, you don’t know the full effect of your actions by just looking at an adult workforce.
- No mention of the toxicity of the product itself or the PAH levels (see Busting Sealant Myths: The “Purity of Refined Coal Tar).
- No mention of the EPA’s study or their information for communities to minimize the use of this product (see US EPA Releases New Info on Coal Tar Sealant Pollution).
The webinar is currently online and here’s the link for you to listen for yourself.