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Issues Of The Environment: Ann Arbor Bans Coal Tar Sealants And Hopes State Will Follow Suit

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The city of Ann Arbor recently passed a ban on coal tar sealants for repairing asphalt.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair speaks to Rebecca Esselman, watershed planner for the Huron River Watershed Council, about the environment impacts of the ban and why Michigan should consider expanding the ban statewide.


  *   In July 2016, Ann Arbor enacted a ban on coal tar asphalt sealants (specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)) because they are toxic to aquatic life, human health, and water quality.  The ban imposes a heavy fine of up to $10,000 for violators.

  *   Ann Arbor hopes to inspire similar bans and eventually a state ban.  There has been opposition from the coal-tar lobbying industry that successfully blocked some legislation, but thus far they have not spoken out against the city ban.

  *   Rebecca Esselman, Watershed Planner for the Huron River Watershed Council, has been working on the ban for several years, and the HRWC is conducting ongoing water quality testing to determine the impact of PAHs in the local waterways.  The HRWC maintains a list of contractors who will use less damaging sealants.

HRWC Coal Tar Free Huron Campaign

Aquatic Health Impacts

In rivers and lakes, PAHs are found primarily in the sediments.  Organisms that spend part or all of their life cycle in contact with these sediments can experience adverse effects due to exposure to elevated concentrations of PAHs.  Affected organisms include mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and plants.  Studies have linked PAH exposure in aquatic animals to stunted growth, reduced reproduction, difficulty swimming, liver problems, altered development, immune system impairment, and death.

Human Health Impacts

For someone who spends their lifetime living adjacent to coal tar sealcoated pavement, the average excess cancer risk is estimated to be 38 times higher than the urban background exposure.  Much of the increased risk occurs during early childhood.  Children play on and near these surfaces and are, therefore, more likely to inhale or ingest PAHs associated with coal tar sealcoat.

Identifying Coal Tar and Other High PAH Sealcoats

Learn how to identify a coal tar or other sealant products with high PAH content. You can request a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or look at the product label.  Avoid products with the following identifiers:

Coal Tar Based Sealants

   1.  CAS#65996-92-1

   2.  CAS#65996-93-2

   3.  CAS#65996-89-6

   4.  CAS#8007-45-2

   5.  Coal Tar

   6.  Coal Tar Pitch

   7.  Coal Tar Distillates

   8.  RT-12

   9.  Refined Tar

   10. Refined Coal Tar Pitch

   11. Coal Tar Pitch Volatiles

   12. Tar

Other High PAH Sealants

   1.  CAS#64742-90-1

   2.  CAS#69013-21-4

   3.  Steam-cracked Petroleum Residues

   4.  Steam-cracked Asphalt

   5.  Pyrolysis Fuel Oil

   6.  Pyrolysis Oil

   7.  Heavy Aromatic Pyrolysis Oil

   8.  Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO)

   9.  Heavy Pyrolysis Oil (HPO)

   10. Ethylene Tar

   11. Ethylene Bottoms

Near the Huron River Watershed area, these companies offers alternatives to coal-tar:

Contractor: Anthony’s Asphalt, (734) 424-9553, Dexter, MI

Contractor: S & J Asphalt, www.sjasphalt.com734-721-4442, Canton, MI; Be sure to specifically request non-coal tar sealers.

Contractor: Tuff Coat Sealcoating, www.tuffcoatsealcoating.com248-673-4445, Waterford, MI

Supplier: Safe Seal of Michigan,

Supplier: Seal Master,— MasterSeal and MasterSeal PM Products

Supplier: GemSeal/Surface Coatings Co. — Guardian AE/PM/NQ Products

If you represent a company that will offer alternatives to coal-tar and service the Washtenaw/Wayne/Oakland/Livingston County area and would like to be listed, please contact

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at

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