Tribune’s Coal Tar Analogy is Now NY’s Coal Tar Reality

“If a company dumped the black goop behind a factory, it would violate all sorts of environmental laws and face an expensive hazardous-waste cleanup.” Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune, January 2011.

“But playgrounds, parking lots and driveways in many communities are coated every spring and summer with coal tar, a toxic byproduct of steelmaking that contains high levels of chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems.”

In March, judgment was finalized against the Tonawanda Coal and Coke facility near Buffalo, NY for doing just that, putting coal tar on the ground. The judgment for this offense alone approached nearly $300 million, but the actual fine was reduced because of the company’s inability to pay.

So what does that have to do with coal tar sealer? By all indications the concentration of the material dumped was just about twice as much as what goes down on a parking lot or playground and worthy of hundreds of millions in fines. But don’t worry, according to the EPA, its OK because it’s “recycled.”

I made a comparison before along with this graphic. So the analogy holds that what Tonawanda got fined millions for putting coal tar (K142 in the graph) on the ground, is only twice as concentrated as what is routinely sprayed on driveways and schoolyards.

Strong Enough Reality for a Statewide Ban in NY?

Three times a bill to pass a ban of coal tar sealers has passed the New York Assembly. In 2012, a similar measured passed the Assembly with 80% in favor before time ran out for the Senate to act on it. Both in 2103 and earlier in this session (A. 630A / S. 4381A) it passed the assembly again. Once again the bill has landed in the Environmental Committee of the New York Senate chaired by Mark Grisanti (Buffalo, same voting district as Tonawanda Coke), who has yet to allow the committee to hear or vote on the matter. In the past, he felt the bill lacked visible support from his constituency, but that was then.

Here are some local comments about the issue:

“It should come as no surprise that the dirty operations at places like Tonawanda Coke contribute to a very dirty product, said Brian Smith, Program & Communications Director at Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Coal tar sealants continue to unnecessarily threaten public health and the environment across New York State, and should be banned without delay.

According to Erin Heaney of the Clean Air Coalition, “We need New York State to take action to prevent this substance from being spread into our neighborhoods.”

“A major ongoing source of pollution to our waterways includes surface runoff from roads and parking lots containing PAH’s that pose a significant threat to human and ecosystem health,” said Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. “For over a decade our community has invested nearly $100 million to remove PAH’s from the Buffalo River and other local waterways, and the continued use of coal tar sealants would undermine that investment and slow our progress towards cleaner water.”

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF – Manhattan), the bill’s primary sponsor said, “PAHs also pose a risk to children as their presence in driveway or house dust endangers children who accidentally ingest them. This is why I introduced legislation, A.630-A, which would prohibit the sale and use of pavement products containing coal tar. There are more environmentally safe alternatives to coal-tar and this sensible legislation would protect both the health of our environment and the safety of our citizens.”

Is this development enough to move this bill forward? We hope so.