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RICHMOND, Va. — Lawmakers last month killed legislation that would give localities the ability to ban the use of coal tar sealer, a product that environmental and health agencies say can negatively impact the aquatic and human life.

A House of Delegates subcommittee voted 5-4 to introduce House Bill 949, sponsored by Del. Kathy KL Tran, D-Fairfax.

The original bill sought to ban the sealant statewide, but an amendment gave localities the option to ban it instead. Violators of the law would have paid a fine of $250.

Coal tar sealer is a viscous black liquid sprayed or painted onto the asphalt pavement. It typically contains 20-35% coal tar or coal tar pitch, which is carcinogenic according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics of the bill say the ban is unnecessary, while supporters argue it could protect human and aquatic life from dangerous chemicals.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation senior scientist Joe Wood supported the bill. He said giving localities the option to ban coal tar sealants is a win-win situation and doesn’t negatively impact anyone.

“You get cancer reduction for kids and people, cleaner waterways, fewer fish with cancer, and better oysters,” Wood said. “There are other products that are basically the same price and work just as well.”

Of the. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, voted to file the bill despite the introduction of the same legislation in 2018. He was reluctant to move forward with Tran’s bill after discussions with the Quality Department of the environmental impact of the sealant, Wilt said in an email. .

“Their contribution to pollution levels in our waterways was not as significant as most other problems,” Wilt said.

Wilt heard various concerns in 2018 that a ban on coal tar sealants might not be “appropriate or necessary policy”, and said he “voluntarily withdrew the bill and decided not to go ahead”.

A person living next to a coal-tar pavement is 38 times more likely to get cancer, and much of that risk occurs during early childhood, according to a report from the US Geological Survey.

Coal tar pitch is a source of a chemical called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH, which has been used to seal the asphalt surfacing of parking lots, driveways and playgrounds, according to the USGS and the department. US Health and Human Services Department.

Coal tar sealer wears over time due to friction with vehicle tires. This produces a fine dust that causes particles to wash off into bodies of water, blow them into the air, or track them into homes, according to the USGS.

Exposure to PAHs, along with other contributing circumstances, can also cause DNA damage and lower IQ in children, according to studies from the peer-reviewed scientific journals Neurotoxicology and Teratology and Oncotarget.

Robb Archie, a third-generation sealant industry entrepreneur from Nevada who has worked with coal tar for decades, supports the bill. Archie has developed a PAH-free asphalt emulsion sealant formula. He said he has addressed similar pavement sealant bills in other state legislatures.

“It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Archie said. “It’s a question of humanity.”

The chemicals have been found in Lafayette River oysters for years, although cleanup efforts have reduced levels of chemical contaminants. Past industrial use of creosote — a wood preservative derived from coal tar — along the Elizabeth River has contributed to high levels of this chemical, according to the Virginia Department of Health. High levels of cancer in killifish have also been linked to PAH contamination in the river, according to the 2020 State of the Elizabeth River Dashboard. The chemicals are serious contaminants for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Of the. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, praised Tran for bringing the bill to the committee’s attention.

“Just reading more about it and hearing more about it is shocking and disturbing at best,” Filler-Corn said during the committee meeting.

Brett Vassey, CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, opposed the bill. The US Department of Health and Human Services did not include coal tar pavement products in its 14th report on carcinogens, Vassey said at the meeting. The HHS currently lists coal tar and coal tar pitches as carcinogens.

Vassey added that this would be the first time Virginia has delegated a science-based decision on the sale of a commercially and legally authorized product to a local government.

Washington, Minnesota and Washington, DC have banned the sale of pavement sealants containing coal tar, along with cities and counties in Illinois, Texas, New York and Maryland, according to USA Today. Maine and New York have statewide bans coming into effect soon.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, major retailers like Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, and The Home Depot have stopped using coal tar sealer.

“We take action when it matters, in recognition of protecting the health of Virginians and our wildlife,” Tran said. “I hope we can continue this conversation in the future and we have this recognition to give this tool to localities.”

By Meghan McIntyre
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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