Fact Sheet

PAHs Coal Tar Sealants

Region

National

NCEL Point of Contact

Mara Herman
Environmental Health Manager

Contact

Overview

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of toxic contaminants that don’t break down in the environment. PAHs are known to have harmful impacts on humans and the environment, and several PAHs are probable human carcinogens. Coal tar sealants contain high concentrations of PAHs. These sealants are used to maintain driveway, playground, and parking lot asphalt pavement that humans come in contact with daily. There are safer and cheaper alternatives available. As coal-tar sealants age, they are broken into small particles in the air and soil with high quantities of PAHs that can be ingested or tracked into homes.

Key Points

Key Point 1

PAHs are known to negatively impact human health and the environment and do not break down naturally. (Interlochen Public Radio, EPA)

Key Point 2

Coal tar sealants used in driveways, playgrounds and parking lots have high concentrations of PAHs and lead to elevated PAH levels in air and water sources. (USGS)

Key Point 3

Cancer risk for people living adjacent to coal tar sealed pavement was 38 times higher than those living adjacent to unsealed pavement. (USGS)

Key Point 4

Alternative pavement options like pervious concrete or permeable asphalt do not require sealants. (EPA)

Legislation

There have been 38 bills relating to PAH’s introduced since 2015 and 12 bills in the past year.

Water Quality Testing for Contaminants including PAH

  • Indiana HB 1357 requires independent testing of Lake Michigan Water for the presence and concentration of pollutants including PAHs.

Prohibiting Sale or Use of Products Containing Coal Tar

  • Wisconsin AB 797, New York S 6308, Michigan HB 4719, and District of Columbia B22 1014 prohibit the sale and use of coal tar-based sealant products and other high PAH sealant pavement products.

Study Committees

  • South Carolina HJR 5194 establishes a study committee to determine PAHs levels in soils and evaluate impact on health and quality of life.
  • Indiana HR 6 assigns different committees to study the banning of the sale and use of coal tar pavement products.

Resources

NCEL Resources

Online Resources

PAH, Coal Tar, and Stormwater Pollution Fact Sheet - EPA

A fact sheet covering the various dangers and sources of Coal-Tar.

Go to resource
DC's Coal Tar & High-PAH Pavement Sealant Ban

The Department of Energy and Environment for Washington DC outlines the DC ban on coal tar sealants and highlights the background of the PAH issue.

Go to resource
Coal Tar and PAH overview - USGS

An overview of coal tar and PAHs and their effects on environmental health.

Go to resource
"Air pollution is breaking our hearts"

An article outlining how PAHs can bind to particulate matter and exacerbate air pollution problems

Go to resource
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