Dear NY Governor: It is Time to Lead on Coal Tar Sealers

Governor Hochul, 

Thank you for last week’s allocation of $59 million dollars for the Clean Green School Initiative to improve air quality of schools for disadvantaged students.

I also appreciate your experience growing up in the industrial sector of Buffalo. One of the things which made the air so terrible was coal tar, a byproduct of the production of steel.

Did you know that toxic coal tar is still applied to school pavements across New York? It turns every school where it is used into an industry hazard. It is breathed in, tracked into the school, and absorbs through the kids’ skin at unhealthy levels and can actually lower their IQ.

That is why I have worked with Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal for more than 10 years to get this banned.

As you know, a bill to do this it has passed the Assembly and the Senate this year (A.518-A/S.4095-B).

Under your leadership the State of New York could dramatically help the nation turn away from the use of these toxic products.

Coal tar sealants are a common, toxic, commercially available product applied to driveways, parking lots and even children’s playgrounds to seal asphalt. These sealants contain toxic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In 2016, the American Medical Association added this to their list of public policy concerns, urging policymakers to require alternative sealants.

The U.S. EPA has found elevated levels of PAHs coming off of stormwater runoff from parking lots, demonstrating that these fossil-fuel based chemicals are entering our lakes, rivers, streams and coastal waters. Both the USGS and the USFWS have found coal tar sealants to be extremely toxic for aquatic life.

Alternatives to coal tar sealants are readily available on the market at a similar cost, without the toxic PAHs. Many jurisdictions have already acted to ban toxic coal tar sealants including the states of Washington, Maine and Minnesota; Washington, D.C., and Austin and San Antonio, Texas. I urge you to join the ranks of other states and jurisdictions in banning toxic coal-tar sealants to protect public health and clean water.

I urge you to take the next steps in protecting clean water and public health by stopping this unnecessary application of high PAH coal tar pavement sealer to impervious surfaces across the state. New York State has made unprecedented gains in water quality and environmental health since the 1960s, and we must not allow this harmful product to set us back. Please, sign A.518-A/S.4095-B into law.

Thomas E. Ennis, PE, LEED AP

Coal Tar Free America