In 2018 a small group of Maryland elementary students presented their school project findings to their local elected official. The subject was a common paving product used to beautify and protect parking lots, playgrounds, and driveways. Often the products are made out of coal tar, one of the first known carcinogens.
“Currently there are 22.5 million Americans under a coal tar ban, how about us?” asked the kids from Centennial Lane Elementary School located in Ellicott City. Howard County Councilor Jon Weinstein agreed and led his community to Maryland’s 4th county-wide ban.
“This bill does more than improve the environment by removing a harmful product,” said Weinstein at the time. “It affirms the importance of taking part in our democracy, no matter how old you are.” Their “passion for this work is what drove this from an idea into a law.” It passed unanimously.
On Wednesday these students will present their case to Maryland lawmakers. The sponsor of House Bill 553, called The Safer Sealant Act, is Delegate Vaughn Stewart, who brings his own personal perspective to this legislation.
“As a two-time cancer survivor and a father to a 17-month old, this hits close to home… This bill is especially rewarding for me because I’m working with the Safer Sealants Team, a group of brilliant 7th graders at Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City. This amazing squad has been advocating for bans on coal tar sealants since the 5th grade. I’m thrilled to help them get the statewide ban over the finish line this session.”
The students’ research efforts including speaking to lawmakers, scientists and advocates around the nation. Few people know that this paving product contains the same ingredient responsible for hundreds of hazardous cleanup sites around the US. One such advocate is Bill Clutter who wrote a book about coal tar connections to children’s cancer in one Illinois town. The middle schoolers’ presentation for Wednesday is expected to reference Clutter’s book, Coal Tar: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America’s Children.
The first jurisdiction in Maryland to ban coal tar sealers was Montgomery County. It was championed by Councilmember Craig Rice who later said, “If coal tar sealers are not good enough for the shelves of Home Depot and Lowes, then it isn’t good enough for the paved surfaces of our community.”
Now more than 40% of Marylanders are under a ban and over 24 million Americans are too, according to the website Coal Tar Free America. It has tracked these efforts for nearly a decade.