Milwaukee Common Council Vote Bans Dangerous Pavement Sealants

Feb 7, 2017

Today the Milwaukee  Common Council unanimously voted to ban a material called coal tar.  The black, shiny liquid is sprayed or painted on surfaces such as driveways, parking lots and playgrounds.The ban also includes other pavement sealant products that contain more than one percent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs.

Credit USGS

Coal tar sealants have been shown to contain dangerous levels of the cancer-causing compound.

Runoff from pavement treated with coal tar is also impacting rivers and streams.

The U.S. Geological Survey partnered with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to sample 40 area streambed sites.

The resulting study showed coal tar sealants are the primary source of toxic chemicals found in the muck around Milwaukee area waterways.  

Scientists also gathered dust samples from area parking lots.

According to the USGS website: dust from coal-tar-sealant contributed about 42 to 94 percents of the PAHs to the samples, with the remainder of PAHs coming from sources such as coal combustion and vehicle emissions.

Milwaukee Alderman Jim Bohl calls the ban a first step in controlling an environmental and public health threat.  

"The best thing we can do is to draw a line in the sand legislatively, and then allow for other measures to try to provide for a better coating and a better cleanup, which probably is something that is necessary over the long hall," Bohl said.

Clean Wisconsin applauded Milwaukee's ban.  

"The chemicals in those sealants can post a real threat to public health, our water and aquatic ecosystems.  We're thrilled the members of the Milwaukee Common Council understand the seriousness of the threat and took decisive action to curb the use of these dangerous products," said Tyson Cook, Clean Wisconsin's science and research director.