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'No reason to have a risk factor like this in our community;' tar-based sealants could be banned

Tar-based sealants
Posted at 4:02 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 17:24:41-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — 19 cities and municipalities in the state of Michigan have banned tar-based sealants to protect people's health and the environment. East Lansing could be number 20 if the city council passes an ordinance next week.

Tar based sealants are commonly used for maintenance on low traffic areas.

“Our driveways, our parking lots, sometimes our trails and our playground,” said Executive Director of the Huron River Watershed Council Rebecca Esselman.

It was once one of the cheapest ways to make asphalt surfaces look better, but it comes with some risks.

“High PAH sealants which is the chemical of concern in these pavement sealant products have both human health impacts and environmental health impacts,” Esselman said.

Huron River Watershed council is an organization in Ann Arbor that advocates against high PAH products. Esselman said people and children can be heavily impacted by the toxins.

“There is an increased cancer risk and that increased risk is greatest among children because children interact with the pavement, the carpeting, the soil, the places where these PAH's end up," Esselman said.

Red Cedar River
Runoff from tar-based sealant surfaces build up in rivers and Lakes and could kill off insects and fish.

The environment is also heavily impacted by the tar sealants.

“In our lakes and streams, we see that insects and fish will die when exposed to run off from field surfaces," Esselman said.

Esselman said she believes these types of sealants should be banned everywhere.

“Toxic issues are inherently really complicated to solve," Esselman said. "This one is something where with just the shift in the products we use we can dramatically decrease the amount of contamination we’re experiencing.”

East Lansing's Environmental Services Administrator Catherine DeShambo said that's why they city is looking to get rid of the products completely.

“There’s really no reason to have a risk factor like this in our community when there are other products that can be used,” DeShambo said.

This was brought to the attention of East Lansing's Commission on the Environment back in October, just before a similar ordinance was passed in Meridian Township in September.

“Our commission on the environment was very concerned with having an ordinance that would mirror what Meridian Township was doing,” DeShambo said.

Runoff cycle
This diagram shows how PAH's can get transported from surfaces.

Deshambo said the city decided to not only look at adapting an ordinance that will prohibit using or selling sealants with PAH levels higher than 0.1 percent weight because of the risk factors, but also to make it easier on contractors.

“To work regionally with all the other communities in our region to make sure we have processes in place, we have ordinances in place that are easily navigated by contractors who want to work in the city of East Lansing and Meridian Township,” DeShambo said.

Deshambo said although the city itself doesn't use tar based sealants, this ordinance will prevent contractors from using it on driveways and other surfaces in the city and encourage them to use non-toxic alternatives that are comparable in price.

“There are asphalt based sealants and there are acrylic based sealants," DeShambo said. "The other products are very competitive in costs and the cost factor really shouldn’t come into play now it’s really about the health and safety."

Deshambo said those who currently have tar-based sealant on surfaces will not have to have them replaced.

If the ordinance passes, businesses would need to register with the city to get a permit before sealing pavement. Violations would be punishable with a $500 civil fine.

The City Council will vote on the ordinance April 13.

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Mikayla Temple

Mikayla Temple

1:39 PM, Jan 05, 2021

Your Neighborhood Reporter

Mikayla Temple