How Coal Tar Changed My Life

Recently I was contacted through our Coal Tar Free America Facebook page. A woman described her suffering from dangerous allergic encounters with coal tar sealers in a way I hadn’t heard before. The Livestrong website warns that an allergic reaction to coal tar may be “rash, hives, trouble breathing, tightness in the chest, and facial or mouth swelling. An allergic reaction to coal tar shampoo should be considered a medical emergency, because it may lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis.”

Here is her story about how coal tar changed her life and lurks like a predator.

October 2015 was the year that changed my life forever. I didn’t know it then, but if only I could’ve gone back in time to warn myself of a future that would make my life so incredibly limited in the freedoms that I once took for granted. For you see, I’ve become allergic to fresh coal tar. I’m on the extreme spectrum – I go into anaphylaxis upon the smell of it. It’s called inhalation anaphylaxis and affects 1% of the population. And while it is rare, it seems as though there are more cases of extreme allergies every day. Now, most people experience some form of adverse reaction to the odor of coal tar, whether it’s nausea, headaches, or breathing issues. It’s an unpleasant smell, one that tends to off gas for several months after its initial application.

I live in the Western half of the United States where the frequent use of coal tar is becoming a considerable problem. My current city prides itself on beautification by spraying weeds with pesticides and putting down new layers of asphalt on a weekly basis. This doesn’t only happen on city roads, but just as often in private parking lots – in shopping centers, dentist offices, and medical buildings. 

For someone with this type of allergy that must navigate the city streets to get on with life, it becomes akin to a time bomb. There’s no possible way to know where the coal tar is going to be laid down. So, I found myself caught one morning while taking my child to his appointment stuck at the intersection: a feeling of unease came over me and the familiar anaphylactic symptoms set in. It was too late to wear my respirator mask. I had to pull over near a clinic after using my epipen and wait for the EMT to take me away to the hospital.

How did it get this far? What could I have done differently? As I said earlier, I remember the month and year that I first became allergic to coal tar. Our entire neighborhood had just been recently asphalted and I decided to take a walk on a trail that I frequent. The air was crisp and I was eager to enjoy the beautiful nature that I’m surrounded with. I had gotten halfway through the walk when I started having issues with my throat, it felt like it was closing up. 

Luckily for me, there was another person on the trail. I stopped a lady who was pushing her child in a stroller. She escorted me home. After I went inside my house, within the hour things had returned back to normal. 

I casually mentioned this to my doctor and she thought it might be wise to talk to an
allergist. And, so my journey began. Within the last three years, I’ve had various run-ins with coal tar and it has become an arch-nemesis of sorts. It is my Achilles heel. While this allergy might be chalked up to a rarity, I might just be the canary in the coal mine. I’ve lived my life for over thirty years without having a trace of an allergy, then, suddenly this happened. 

The dangers of coal tar are widely known and it is banned in Europe, Australia, and in other countries. Here in America – we are all canaries in the coal mine. There is a choice for us, our children, and future grandchildren: Ban the use of coal tar. Don’t make this your cautionary tale for the future.

Share this post