If only there was some regulatory agency that protected the interests of people and the environment…
Michael Hawthorne of the Trib writes:
If a company dumped the black goop behind a factory, it would violate all sorts of environmental laws and face an expensive hazardous-waste cleanup.
But playgrounds, parking lots and driveways in many communities are coated every spring and summer with coal tar, a toxic byproduct of steelmaking that contains high levels of chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems.
Nearly two decades after industry pressured the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to exempt coal tar-based pavement sealants from anti-pollution laws, a growing number of government and academic studies are questioning the safety of the widely used products. Research shows that the tar steadily wears off and crumbles into contaminated dust that is tracked into houses and washed into lakes.
In Lake in the Hills, a fast-growing McHenry County suburb about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey found that driveway dust was contaminated with extremely high levels of benzo(a)pyrene, one of the most toxic chemicals in coal tar. The amount was 5,300 times higher than the level that triggers an EPA Superfund cleanup at polluted industrial sites.
(click to continue reading New doubts cast on safety of common driveway sealant – Chicago Tribune.)
…because profits for industry always seem to trump petty health concerns as far as the EPA is concerned:
Despite the EPA’s long-standing worries about the chemicals, industry successfully lobbied to exempt coal tar pavement sealants when the agency tightened hazardous-waste rules for coke ovens during the early 1990s. The little-noticed change made it easier for manufacturers to keep selling the products, which can contain as much as 30 percent coal tar by weight.
Agency spokesmen declined to make anyone available to discuss the exemption, but said in a statement there are no plans to revise it. “EPA regulations allow for the legitimate recycling of coal tar under certain specified parameters,” the statement said.
Scientists started to track the movement of coal tar sealants into homes and lakes about a decade ago, after pinpointing the source of alarmingly high levels of PAHs in Barton Springs, a popular swimming hole in Austin, the Texas capital. Tom Bashara, an environmental investigator, noticed that pollution hotspots in a creek flowing into the pool were near parking lots coated with coal tar.
In Austin, the scientists also found that dust inside apartments next to parking lots coated with coal tar was 25 times more contaminated than the dust in units next to lots coated with asphalt or left unsealed. Young children could be the most vulnerable to exposure, the researchers concluded, because they play on or near floors where dust collects.
Sick kids? Who cares? Got to ensure quarterly profit margins increase…
Side note, home testing sounds fairly easy:
Q. Is there a test to check if I have coal tar sealant on my driveway?
A. A definitive test is expensive, but officials in Austin, Texas, came up with an alternative. Use a screwdriver or razor blade to scrape off a small amount of pavement sealant and place it in a glass vial filled with mineral spirits. Seal the vial, shake it and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. If the liquid is dark and coffee-colored, the sealant likely is asphalt-based. If it looks like amber-colored tea and remains more clear, assume it’s coal tar-based.
The only definitive way to tell is by checking the CAS number on the product’s material safety data sheet, usually available online or from contractors. The CAS number for coal tar is 65996-93-2.