Toxic products used mainly to seal asphalt driveways for homes and neighborhoods could be banned in Virginia localities under legislation introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (HB 949). The bill would give local governments the option to ban the sale, distribution, and use of coal tar pavement sealants, a black liquid marketed for repeated applications to pavement.
These products contain high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that can harm people, birds, amphibians, fish, mammals, and plants.
Dangerous chemicals can enter the environment through skin contact, such as a child sitting on a coated driveway. They can also be loosened when a car drives over pavement, then be washed off by rain or transported by the car’s tires.
Other types of asphalt sealants are available that are significantly less toxic, are priced similarly, and are widely available. Most highway departments and road agencies, including the Virginia Department of Transportation, have not used coal tar products on asphalt pavement for many years.
PAHs have been detected in several fish and waterways throughout Virginia, including the Elizabeth River, where they have been a major driver of fish cancer and other severe problems. Prohibitions on the uses of toxic sealants has shown to be effective, with some places showing a 50 percent decline in toxins in waterways after only a few years. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program has prioritized PAHs as among the most critical toxic contaminant to rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Senior Scientist Joe Wood issued the following statement.
“When most people decide to re-seal their driveway, they have no idea they might be applying a toxic product that causes cancer in people and in fish and will make its way into their homes.
“There are safer ways to protect pavement. That’s one reason we no longer use these products on public streets and highways. Transitioning from toxic driveway sealants is a commonsense step for the health of Virginians and the health of our waterways.”
Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran issued the following statement.
“Toxic chemicals in coal tar sealants are damaging to our public health and wildlife, and I am glad to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to introduce House Bill 949 to provide our local governments with tools to address this issue.”
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