HIGHLAND PARK – The Highland Park City Council on Monday passed a motion to ban the sale and use of coal tar products in Highland Park. Coal tar sealants are known to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can cause cancer and birth defects in aquatic life.
“The fact that some PAHs are a human carcinogen cannot also be the reason to ban this product,” argued David Kanter, a Chicago attorney representing Pavement Coatings Technology Council (PCTC) in Virginia at the January 9 City Council meeting. “Highland Park hasn’t banned bacon, red meat, fried foods, tanning beds, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, alcohol, coconut oil, and lipstick, which are all substances that have chemicals that are known human carcinogens.” He also included some hair care products.
“All of the items that you mentioned from shampoo to bacon to cigarette products are all things that I can choose not to expose myself to [which is not the same as having] coal tar sealant on the driveway next to my house,” said Councilwoman Kim Stone. “I operate under the cautionary principle if it’s something that is hazardous, we should limit its use.”
As the liaison to the Natural Resources Commission, Stone explained that the commission began having public meetings about coal tar sealants in November 2014.
“Coal tar pitch is a known carcinogen,” she said. “It’s a component in these sealants that is used specifically for aesthetic purposes. It doesn’t structurally help pavements. With our proximity to Lake Michigan we have a responsibility to protect Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin, the largest fresh water system on earth. That’s a good enough reason not to test our water to know that we don’t want to put a carcinogen in the watershed.”
Kanter said the Village of Winnetka banned coal tar sealants before testing it and when all of their water sources were later tested, no elevated levels of PAHs were found.
“To my knowledge Highland Park has not tested the stormwater runoff to see if there are elevated levels of PAHs that can be attributed to coal tar sealants,” he said.
Mayor Nancy Rotering said, “My understanding is that as coal tar sealants break down over time it can cling to shoes and be present in the air when cars drive on it and pick up the dust as it degrades.”
Kanter said the product has been around for about 30 years, and it’s never been a problem. “Anne LeHuray, executive director, PCTC is a PHD chemist and she can answer these questions a lot better than a lawyer can.” He requested that the City Council defer its vote to ban coal tar sealants until after LeHuray can come in from Virginia to provide more information.
Councilman Alyssa Knobel said the council has been talking to state legislators for a year and they found out that major retailers have banned these products and there are alternatives. She said she’s concerned about playgrounds where children play, breathe the air, and bring the products into their homes by tracking in dust particles. “We want to make it safer and easier to live in Highland Park,” she added.