The Threat of Coal-Tar Driveway and Parking Lot Sealants

photo of Brian Will

Brian Will

Rachel Carson in her seminal book “Silent Spring” raised public consciousness to the threat of commonly used chemicals such as DDT.  Since the 1962 publication of Carson’s book, society has become aware of many other products that threaten human health and the environment, including cigarettes, refrigerants, neonicotinoids, and asbestos. In the last twenty years, one chemical product that is alarming environmentalists is toxic coal-tar driveway and parking lot sealants, widely used in residential neighborhoods and strip mall parking lots in the Midwest.

Coal-tar sealants are primarily composed of coal-tar pitch, which has 1,000 times more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than an equally effective alternative product, asphalt-based sealants.  Asphalt-based sealants are widely available and similarly priced to coal-tar sealants and are a considerably less toxic.

Coal- tar sealant is a black, acrid-smelling goo that is spread on homeowner driveways and parking lots on warm days.  If you have ever walked near a newly sealed driveway and noticed the strong odor of mothballs, you probably were inhaling PAHs from the coal-tar fumes.  As coal-tar sealant is being poured and for years afterward, the carcinogenic PAHs present in the coal-tar gradually spread into the environment in the form of dust. Tires, snow shovels, leaf blowers, brooms, shoes, and bare feet can spread the poisonous dust into the environment as well as bring it inside homes.

The National Cancer Institute has classified coal-tar sealant as a Class 1 carcinogen, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has determined that the PAH’s from coal-tar sealed driveway and parking lot runoff cause birth defects and death in fish, amphibians, and invertebrates.   Coal-tar sealants are so toxic that most nationwide home improvement retailers like Lowe’s, Ace, Home Depot, and TruValue no long sell them.  Thanks to education and advocacy by watershed organizations, many states have implemented bans or restrictions on the selling and application of coal-tar, including Minnesota, Washington, New York, Maryland, California, and Maine. Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., Ann Arbor, Austin, San Antonio, multiple suburbs of Chicago, and over hundred other cities and towns have banned coal-tar sealants.

Since coal-tar sealants are not usually available in retail stores, residents run the risk of being exposed to coal-tar when they hire contractors to seal their driveways. Residents can protect themselves and the environment by informing the contractor that they do not want coal-tar products, and ask for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MS-DS) of the product they intend to use. If the Chemical Abstract Number (CAS) for the product is 65996-93-2, then that contractor intends to use a coal-tar sealant.

You can learn more about the dangers of coal-tar sealants by visiting the USGS website.  There are also multiple helpful videos on YouTube.

Brian Will  bvwill@att.net

Support FLOW through our Milkweed Mania fundraiser!

In collaboration with Riverside Native Perennials, FLOW is hosting a milkweed sale. Milkweed is great for pollinators, and the butterflies will love you for it! We would love to see more of these native plants within the Lower Olentangy Watershed. The price is $12 per pot, containing 2-3 stems of milkweed. There are a variety of species available including Sullivant’s (Prairie), Whorled, Butterfly, Swamp, and Common.

Ready to order? Visit https://riversidenativeperennials.com/flow-fundraiser to order online. All orders must be picked up on Sunday, September 12th from 12PM-3PM at Sawmill Wetlands Education Area (2650 Sawmill Pl. Blvd., Columbus, OH 43235). Mark your calendars! Any orders not picked up during that time frame will be donated to a local greenspace area.

Please email us with any questions! info@olentangywatershed.org

Thank you for supporting FLOW and our Greenspace Implementation Plan!

The Dangers of Toxic Coal-Tar Driveway and Parking Lots Sealants to the Watershed

photo of Brian Will

Brian Will

Come Join FLOW as we return to our Outreach and Education Speaker Series on Tues., Sep. 14, 5:30-6:30 at Whetstone Library!  

Brian Will is an organizer of Sustainable Grandview, a grassroots, community-based citizens alliance in Grandview Heights dedicated to pursuing a cleaner and more environmentally friendly city.  He has been on the board of trustees of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) since 2016 where he leads the Solid Waste Plan committee.  He is employed at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center where he works in medical education and is a leader on the med center’s green team.

 

 

a freshly sealed driveway

As coal tar sealants degrade, their toxic particles are washed into the waterways and are tracked into our homes.

From a sustainability perspective, Brian’s primary interest is advocating for the protection of wildlife and natural habitat, especially native trees and plants, waterways and prairies.  To this end, he volunteers with Friends of Lower Olentangy Watershed, the Grange Audubon Center, Green Columbus, Citizens Climate Lobby, and the Sycamore Land Trust.

Brian has achieved household carbon neutrality with the help of rooftop solar panels, reducing household energy usage, diet and lifestyle changes and purchasing carbon offsets through Carbon Neutral Ohio.

In his role with Sustainable Grandview, Brian has written white papers and made presentations to the city council and mayor on various environmental topics, including the importance of tree canopies and the dangers of coal-tar driveway and parking lot sealants.  Brian will be discussing the latter, as toxic coal-tar represents a significant threat to humans as well as aquatic life in the watershed

Cleaning up Your Household’s ‘Carbon Trash’ and Becoming Carbon Neutral

OSU Wexner Medical Center’s Green Team Monthly Webinar Series presents:

Clean up Your Household’s ‘Carbon Trash’ and Become Carbon Neutral – with Daniel Poynter. 

Tuesday, Jul 20, 2021 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

About the speaker:

Daniel Poynter  founder @Carbon Neutral Ohio, one state chapter of a national grassroots movement
 
Daniel Poynter founded Carbon Neutral Indiana (CNI) in April 2020, and his non-profit organization is now expanding to other states, including Ohio (www.CarbonNeutralOhio.org). CNI helps households measure and clean up their carbon footprints. Along the way, they’ve demonstrated a self-financing, scalable social movement that can be expanded across other states. Before founding CNI, Daniel was a software engineer, professional advisor to 100+ social entrepreneurs, MacArthur Foundation Young Innovator, and speaker at 20 international academic institutions.

Be a FLOW citizen scientist!

You can be a FLOW citizen scientist with just your smart phone and an iNaturalist account!

iNaturalist observations allow anyone to identify and share their observations of living things – animals, plants, fungi, and more.

We have added the Lower Olentangy Watershed as a “place” in iNaturalist, so any of your observations with coordinates within the watershed will automatically appear under that listing, helping us better determine the diversity of species in the watershed. It doesn’t have to be an unusual or rare species to be of interest.

You can search for Lower Olentangy Watershed or even Olentangy and see what wonders your watershed holds!

Upload your nature photo(s) to your iNaturalist account (it’s free!) and the site will offer suggestions to help you identify what you are looking at, and other users actively reach out and help confirm many of your identifications. The more detailed the photo the better, and you can add multiple photos of the same plant or animal.

Monofilament Recycling Boxes

Monofilament recycling containerMonofilament Recycling Boxes
FLOW is installing dedicated boxes for recycling monofilament along waterways in the watershed. Monofilament can have serious negative environmental consequences if not recycled properly. It cannot be recycled along with other household plastics. Read on to learn why and how you should recycle monofilament.

What is monofilament?
This is the most common type of fishing line. As opposed to fishing line that is braided or made from multiple fibers, monofilament is made from a single strand. You have probably seen monofilament if you have ever gone fishing or been around fishermen. Unfortunately, if you like to walk by lakes or rivers, you have likely also seen discarded monofilament left along the banks.

What are the negative environmental impacts of monofilament?
It is not difficult to imagine how helpless wildlife can be against long durable plastic strings. When monofilament is left out in nature, fish, birds, and mammals can easily get entangled in it. It is thin and often clear, so it is difficult to see. Once an animal comes in contact with monofilament, survival can become difficult.

When monofilament wraps around a limb, it can impede walking or flying, or cause amputation. If the monofilament affects the animal’s ability to catch food or eat, the animal will likely die of starvation. Drowning, strangulation, and other serious injuries are also possible. Sometimes monofilament is accidentally ingested. Depending on the amount, the animals might not be able to pass through their digestive systems.

What is the proper way to recycle monofilament?
The only safe way to discard monofilament is to drop it in dedicated recycling boxes in parks or at participating tackle shops. The lines in these boxes are taken to special plants that have the capacity to recycle monofilament. Note that you should not put any braided or multi-string line in these boxes.

Monofilament cannot be recycled along with other household plastics. Due to its high-density, it requires a special recycling process.

Disposing of monofilament in a regular garbage bin does not solve the problem either. Wind can blow monofilament out of trash cans. In landfills, birds and scavengers looking for nest materials can pick it up. Monofilament is non-biodegradable and can last thousands of years, so it is important to make sure that it does not get into landfills to begin with.

What else can you do to help?
Here are some things you can do to keep monofilament away from wildlife.

If you like to go fishing, make sure to do the following:

1) Cast your line away from trees and other areas where it may get caught.

2) Check your line often to avoid unexpected breaks.

3) Never leave your line unattended.

4) Discard old monofilament line in proper boxes. 

5) Remove hooks from the monofilament line before recycling.

When you come across discarded monofilament in the parks – please pick it up and recycle it properly later. If you are eager to help even more – join a volunteer group to pick up monofilament along rivers and lakes.

Thank you for keeping our watershed safe for all!

Written by Sonya Afanasyeva