New Sealer Alternatives Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be

New Michigan Ban First to Outlaw New Products

‘Tis the Season for grand beginnings from humble locations!

In that spirit Van Buren Township, Michigan, with little fanfare, ushered in a new era in pavement sealant regulation: banning all products which exceed a certain level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It is the first of its kind in the United States, but more are on the way. This will effectively ban non-coal tar products that have been marketed as environmentally preferred, yet are high in the toxic materials.

Why did they ban this?

It appears that 2015 brought it a new crop of alternative sealcoat products. Coal Tar Free America has learned through the Freedom of Information Act that a new ingredient in non-coal tar containing products can be nearly as high in toxic PAH’s as the coal tar products they intend to replace. The ingredient is known as steam cracked asphalt or heavy pyrolysis oil (HPO) and is a byproduct of petroleum distillation. Technically it isn’t coal tar.

A chemical analysis was performed by the City of Austin on a new Gem Seal product called “Black Diamond.” The results showed about 2% PAH compared to the average coal tar sealer is closer to 7 to 8% and the average for traditional asphalt-based pavement sealer is 0.005%. The product site claims it has “all the environmental benefits of asphalt emulsion sealer,” but they failed to mention that it contains nearly 400 times more PAH’s.

The new standard in Van Buren Township is 1%, yet there are other communities that are considering an even lower standard of 0.1%.

The graphic helps with the comparison by translating the concentration of the different sealer types into the height of a known structure. For example the new One World Trade Center is the highest at 1,776 feet tall and represents the concentration of coal tar pavement sealers; the dollhouse at only 1.5 feet tall represents the traditional asphalt-based pavement sealer; and the two-story home in between represents the European standard for toxic pavement. Along comes this new family of products with HPO which has high concentrations and is likened to the height of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Another company that is using HPO is NEYRA in their new Force product. Their product is labeled
“environmentally friendly” because it does not contain coal tar, but it does contain HPO. How much? This information was requested beginning in March, but no lab results have been made available. A copy of that correspondence is shown here. It implies that they haven’t done any testing.

Who else is using this product?

That is a simple enough question, but no one really knows. Many Safety Data Sheets for asphalt-based materials are vague in the type of asphaltic materials used. It is time for pavement sealant companies to come clean with their PAH levels and their ingredients. Very few have publicly shared this information, but it is time for the industry to state clearly the PAH level of their products. All certified lab results shared with Coal Tar Free America will be made available here.

So What’s the Problem?

Research over the last few years has demonstrated that pavement sealants don’t stay where they’re put and cause unnecessary exposures for our families. Why would one suspect it would be any different with this product? The use of HPO in the general environment appears to be poorly understood both from a human and environmental exposure perspective.

Even the literature of the producers say they haven’t looked into the risks posed to the public because it is only expected to be used in industrial applications.

The fundamental problem is that we have an industry that appears to change products with out any discernible analysis of the effects of the product. That’s a problem.

Are These New Products Legal Where There are Existing Coal Tar Bans? 

It appears that some communities who have banned coal tar sealers now list the HPO sealers on their websites as legal products. Two examples are Montgomery County, MD and Austin, TX. Could the progress made in Austin be undone by these new products?

Ban All Sealers?

Contrary to what some say, you won’t see this website condemning the use of any and all pavement sealers. We applaud any product that works to benefit of the property owner without doing harm to themselves, their neighbors or the environment. We just have a long way to go to achieve this.

Industry Challenge

We celebrate with Michigan and the Huron River Watershed Council with this new ban, but at the same time we issue this challenge to the makers of all pavement sealers: clearly test and notify the public of the PAH values in your products. Some of you don’t want to know, but the public deserves to know. So send in your certified lab results for publishing here.

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