The year 2019 was one of quiet progress toward the elimination of coal tar sealers from our communities. In spite of national issues occupying the media and the public’s attention (e.g., the Russian Collusion probe, the impeachment of the President, and the left vs. right) progress has continued to be made. Here’s why.
2020 marks the 15th year since the nation’s first coal tar sealer ban was passed in Austin, Texas. Since then over 100 authorities in Canada and the US, have taken formal action to limit the use of this product for over 20 million Americans.
In June the State of Maine joined Washington and Minnesota with a statewide ban that won’t begin to go into effect until 2021. State Representative Mattie Daughtry orchestrated an incredible re-vote in the Maine Senate for the ban to pass. With term limits in Maine, she was leaving their House at the end of the year. This was the third run at a ban and was successful in spite of a full press from the coal tar industry.
The City of Austin, Texas updated their ban which goes into effect today, January 1, 2020. It includes any sealcoat product with a PAH content above 0.1%.
Local bans continue to pile up in Wisconsin thanks primarily to the advocacy organization Clean Wisconsin. They included Green Bay, Racine, Plymouth, Sturgeon Bay and Oak Creek among others. Could they be the next to pass a statewide ban?
Unsuccessful ban attempts were made at the state level in Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and New York. For a lot of surmountable reasons, statewide bans have a low success rate with only about one in 5 or 10 becoming law. Local bans are nearly the complete opposite with over a 90% passage rate.
In January ten Minnesota cities filed suit against several coal tar refiners or manufacturers alleging coal tar products have contaminated their stormwater ponds and increased their cleanup costs. At the time of this writing, three of the defendants have been granted “motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.” The court determined that the actions of these three were not sufficiently shown to contribute to the claims brought by the cities. With seven remaining industry defendants, the case will move forward in some manner in 2020.
This lawsuit garnered some national attention in print or online media, but it has been another year without significant press on this issue. Bans of high PAH products (those which are high in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, but without coal tar per se) have spread without a single national story on the topic. Perhaps this year will be different.