Several White Lake area governmental units have taken a stand not to use suspected cancer-causing “coal tar” sealcoats on driveway and parking lots, and are encouraging residents to discontinue or not use the coal tar products.

Whitehall Township became the first local government to pass a resolution to eliminate use of coal tar sealcoats on township properties and to educate residents on the dangers of its use at its board meeting on Sept. 22. Since then the City of Whitehall (Oct. 14), Fruitland Township (Oct. 20) and Laketon Township (Oct. 16) have likewise passed resolutions. The City of Montague has not passed a resolution, but has included a warning to residents in its Fall 2014 city newsletter.

In that message, the City of Montague, like other area governments, stated it has only used asphalt-based sealcoats on city property.

Environment consultant Tanya Cabala of Whitehall, who has been working with Freshwater Future, has contacted local governments asking them to pass resolutions taking a stand to not use coal tar sealcoats and educate the public about its dangers. Freshwater Future is a non-profit organization that works to protect water resources in the Great Lakes.

According to materials provided to the local governments by Cabala and Freshwater Future, pavement sealcoat, or sealant, is a viscous black liquid that is sprayed or painted on some residential and commercial asphalt driveways and parking lots to protect and beautify the underlying pavement. Most sealcoat products have a coal tar or asphalt (oil) base. Car tar is more commonly used in the eastern portion of the U.S., while asphalt is more used in the western portion of the country.

Studies done by the U.S. Geological Survey , have identified the coal tar based sealcoat as a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in urban areas in large parts of the nation. A study done by the City of Austin, Texas in 2005 found that the coal tar based products contained about a 1,000 times more PAH’s than asphalt based sealcoat products. Several of the PAH’s are suspected human carcinogens - cancer causing agents - and are toxic to aquatic life.

PAH’s enter streams, lakes, homes and the air in several ways; friction from vehicle tires on the pavement breaks the sealcoat into tiny particles, which then enter stormwater systems and streams during rains, are blown offsite by the wind and are tracked indoors on the soles of shoes. Children playing on or near a sealcoat surface may inhale dust or ingest particles from toys that have been in contact with the pavement.

Residents and companies using sealcoats, are encouraged to make sure that products they use are not coal tar based. Stores offer asphalt based sealcoats.

Current pavement with coal tar sealcoats can be covered with asphalt based sealcoats to keep PAHs from entering the environment.