GRAND LEDGE, Mich. — Playground parking lots, supermarkets, and our driveways. Experts say that many of them are sealed with coal tar, a toxic substance.
Grand Ledge has banned the use of coal tar-based sealants, following mid-Michigan’s Meridian Township and East Lansing.
“We wanted to do something with the PAHs before it became a problem," said Tom Jancek, a member or the Grand Ledge City Council, referring to a group of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. "And there are solutions now. You just use a different sealer.”
Grand Ledge has banned coal tar as a pavement sealant, which means that contractors and retailers are not allowed to sell or use it anymore. The ordinance is meant to protect its residents' health and the environment.
“Anytime you burn something, if you burn toast, you create PAH,” said Thomas Ennis, advocate and founder of Coal Tar Free America.
“If you've got coal tar on your parking lot, you will have high PAH is in your apartment," he said. "You may say, well, that's just the carpet. Well, that's where our kids play…They're constantly putting stuff in their mouth. And that's what, that's the way they experience their world. Well, they're experiencing it in a pH rich environment. And it's significant enough to increase their lifetime cancer risk 38 times by up for a child in those kinds of circumstances."
Ennis said polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be breathed in, ingested, but also get in our bloodstream if we touch them, which puts construction workers at high risk as well. According to Ennis, the solution is easy and not any more expensive than coal tar.
“Coal tar sealcoat is about 70,000 parts per million. Then asphalt sealcoat is about 50 parts per million. So, we're talking about the alternative being, you know, 1000 times less in PAHs,” Ennis said.
Michigan’s Van Buren Township was the first community in the U.S. to ban not only coal tar, but high PAH substances, everything that contains over 0.1 percent of PAH. In mid-Michigan, coal tar has been banned by Meridian Township, East Lansing and now Grand Ledge.
“We get our water from the groundwater. So, the more that we can protect it, the better long term we are,” Jancek said.
Lansing’s Communications Director Scott Bean said that the city of Lansing and its contractors are not using coal tar sealants. However, there is no ordinance in place for private contractors.
“This is an issue we will be discussing with the Sustainability Commission to possibly make a recommendation on any future action,” Bean said.
Ennis said he gets “a lot of calls from upset homeowners who've put this down, and you know, they've got small kids, and then they realize, 'Oh, my gosh, I don't want to poison them. I do all this the right things for my kids. I eat the right things, I do the right things. And then I didn't know this.' Well, I think that's the role of good government is to protect, protect citizens from predatory uses of toxic substances,” Ennis said.
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