As reported in the Daily North Shore, the Highland Park City Council voted to ban the use and sale of refined tar based pavement sealers on Jan. 9.
Two events during the City Council meeting stand out. First, the Council inexplicably denied industry representative PCTC the opportunity to offer rebuttal materials to the proposed ordinance. Even though it’s the dead of winter in Highland Park with no sealcoating possible for five snowy, slushy months, the Council seemed to value speed over examining all the evidence and facts before making a supportable decision. It was almost as though they didn’t want to know.
City Council declared testing was not needed to see if a problem even exists with PAHs in local water sources. To put this decision into context, the Village of Winnetka (Highland Park’s template for the ordinance) passed a ban because it was convinced that its in-progress testing would reveal that sealant is a problem, when in fact, testing proved the exact opposite.
Perhaps the Highland Park City Council has all the right intentions, but lawmakers at the local level need to start using evidence to back up their decisions. Because as it stands now, it appears as though they simply heard what they wanted to hear in scientifically suspect and demonstrably biased US Geological Survey studies. PCTC studies and post-publication peer reviews have found that USGS conclusions are based on cherry-picked, manipulated data combined with exaggerations and selective use of information.
Ironically, the City Council earnestly expressed the need to follow an evidence-based approach in considering another item on the agenda, but no evidence was needed to decide to ban a product that has been used safely for almost a century.
Second, Councilwoman and Natural Resource Commission liaison Kim Stone announced that the decision was made based on the precautionary principle. Ban of a useful product by the Highland Park Council and other bans on the North Shore are an important example to local businesses about how government intrudes on the right to earn a living.
Far too often, the precautionary principal is used to cover an action taken with little or no evidence of harm – if a product is perceived to have any undefined negative quality by any one person, the precautionary principle says the product should be banned. As one can imagine, this principle has been used and abused by various governmental bodies in order to push lawmakers desired agendas on many topics.
The City of Highland Park is yet another example of the precautionary principle run amok and the abuse of power by willfully uninformed local politicians who seem comfortable impacting the livelihoods of local business without considering who it is that is really introducing a hazard.
Anne LeHuray, PhD, is executive director of the Pavement Coatings Technology Council (PCTC), a trade association comprised of manufacturers and suppliers of pavement maintenance products. PCTC’s members are dedicated to extending the life of asphalt through maintaining the highest quality manufacturing and application standards.
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