It is the state legislative season when bills are proposed, argued, passed or die. It is also the season of new and recycled arguments from the coal tar industry to defend this toxic product. Following are the Top 7 Crazy Claims of 2020 so far.
1. Industry Claims Damage Done to Sealcoat Industry
Industry says that a ban will do irreparable harm to business.
However this is not what a recent market research company found. They confirmed what one CEO of a sealer company said a few years ago: bans really won’t hurt the sealcoat business.
In the projected period through 2024, the industry is expected to experience “moderate growth” but:
“rising bans on coal tar-based sealers, the improved performance of asphalt-based sealers, and competitive pricing are expected to result in the increased consumption of bitumen and asphalt sealers…”
“Transparency Market Research projects that the sealers market in North America will rise from a value of US$405.7 million in 2015 to US$609.3 million by 2024…”
2. Industry Claims No Health Effects for Sealcoat Workers
The sealer industry is fond of saying how safe their product is for worker safety. No evidence, no claims, no one harmed.
Even during this spring’s legislative season, the statements have continued. Our position has been that it is faulty logic to claim a statement as true without any comprehensive analysis to support it. And there are plenty of cases of harm.
In 2014 a law firm from Buffalo, New York dispelled that myth in their quarterly newsletter. The firm garnered a “substantial settlement” for the heirs of a man who worked for 34 years making coal tar containing pavement products. He died a year after discovering he had lung cancer.
Here’s the link to read the entire sad story: https://www.lipsitzponterio.com/newsroom-newsletter-item-27.html
I know of a case of an applicator of coal tar who died of cancer, but demanded an autopsy upon his death. The physician said his chest smelled like creosote when he opened him up.
USA Today even wrote about one area sealcoater who had to switch to a non-coal tar product after experiencing dizziness and panic attacks. His symptoms improved after switching products.
Other cases I have heard of is skin burns, PAH-related eye swelling (like pink eye), and even bleeding from the eyes. Yes these are anecdotal, but without a comprehensive study that is all we have.
We also know that PAH exposure can affect sperm count in men.
By the way, did you know that the many retired United Steelworkers are tested for cancers after being exposed to coal tar? https://m.usw.org/publications/usw-at-work/pdfs/SOAR-Spr12web.pdf
3. Industry Claims PAHs are not a Problem in Maryland Water Quality Reports
Industry wants to avert the attention away from the heart of the problem: the greatest exposures take place in and near a sealed surface, not at some distance away. The risk to children playing on a sealed surface is about the same as exposure to secondhand smoke. The further away from the source, the more dilute and less risk.
Also Morgan State University found that Chesapeake Bay oysters are affected by the chemicals from this product and said,
This study’s results provide evidence that PAHs entering an aquatic ecosystem from runoff from road surfaces have the potential to inhibit oyster reproduction by negatively impacting three critical processes in the early life cycle of the Eastern oyster.
They also cited the New York Academy of Sciences Harbor Study to show that PAHs are not a problem. However they didn’t mention that same study found that 38% of the most toxic PAHs come from coal tar sealers.
4. Industry Claims Coal Tar Sealers are Not Classified as a Carcinogen
This is completely misleading. Ruling bodies like the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) typically classify chemicals as carcinogens, not products. Sealers are mixtures of chemicals and inert ingredients—a product. Coal tar is a known human carcinogen.
However a cancer researcher, Dr. Robyn Fuchs-Young stated at a public hearing on coal tar sealers:
“These coal tar sealers are essentially big buckets of carcinogen…”
“The increased cancer risk associated with coal-tar-sealed asphalt likely affects a large number of people in the US,” says E. Spencer Williams, PhD, assistant research scientist at Baylor University’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research (now with the CDC).
5. Industry Claims Wine is Worse for You than Coal Tar Sealers
Strange that industry would cherry-pick an analysis from Environment Canada where the ultimate recommendation was to ban the product. More precisely they found after they reviewed the entirety of the literature that coal tar sealers meet the legal threshold to ban the product.
Industry was caught citing this study by the Village President of Wilmette a few years ago. When asked why they didn’t quote the conclusion and only this analysis they said because they don’t agree with it. Here’s the statement they ignored:
“The MOE [risks] associated with ingestion of house dust by children is considered potentially inadequate to protect these susceptible subpopulations.”
Here is their concluding statement:
“Overall the evidence appears to support your conclusions that coal tars and their distillates meet the criteria under paragraph 64c of CEPA and they are entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that may constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”
This MOE value will take a little more analysis in the future but these facts remain:
- Canada found sufficient grounds to ban coal tar sealers
- Cancer is not the only problem caused by PAHs from sources like coal tar sealers. They cause birth defects, learning disorders, behavior problems and trigger asthma. Not exactly safe.
- Consuming alcohol is a voluntary choice, but being exposed to coal tar sealers is not.
Here is a link to the Canadian study: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=E34B0A52-1
6. Industry Claims Studies are only Done on Individual PAHs
This is a complete fabrication. There are literally thousands of studies on the health effects PAHs as mixtures. The first one was done over 100 years ago by painting coal tar on the ears of rabbits. After putting coal tar on the ears of 101 rabbits every 3 days, they all had cancer in 5 months.
7. Industry Claims All Highway Maintenance Will End with a Ban
This is the chicken little strategy that the sky is falling if a ban goes into effect. However it can easily be addressed with slight modifications to the bill.
The industry representative clearly stated that there are 5 times more liquid asphalt on public roads than private pavement (driveways and parking lots). If the goal is water quality, then public roads should be addressed. While these products have not been fully evaluated, legislators could take two separate directions to address this:
- Public roadways could be excluded from this bill. This is clean, but doesn’t work toward reducing public roadway pollution.
- An exception could be written into the law, which would allow public agencies to petition the State of Maryland for product waivers. For example the City of Austin, Texas wrote a similar waiver in their ordinance passed in October of 2019:
The director may exempt a person from a requirement of this chapter if the
Director determines that a viable alternative to a high PAH pavement product is not
available for the intended use.