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Councilman Nirenberg looks to ban coal tar in SA

District 8 councilman believes coal tar harmful to water supply

SAN ANTONIO – "Black tops," which are common in cities like San Antonio, are often a result of a coating of coal tar sealant, a product used by many asphalt companies that is meant to keep parking lots and driveways from cracking and weathering.  

District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg is working to get the substance banned.

"It is still being used in San Antonio, and we have a significant stormwater runoff quality issue," said Nirenberg.

Water quality is cited as the reason behind the potential ban. While coal tar is already banned over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, in Hays and Comal counties, and the city of Austin, no ban currently exists in Bexar County.  

Runoff from rain can pick up dangerous chemicals, including those allegedly found in coal tar, and spread those contaminants into area water sources.

Some lab tests have shown coal tar to cause an increase in cancer risk in humans and to have a negative effect on aquatic life. 

"The elimination of coal tar sealants in other communities has led to a dramatic improvement to stormwater runoff quality," said Nirenberg.

Billy Luke, who runs a local paving and seal-coating company, has been around coal tar his whole life.

"My grandpa started our paving business in 1963, and we grew up around it," said Luke.

While seal-coating is just one of the services Luke's company offers, he believed a ban on coal tar would significantly hurt business. He also believed coal tar's danger to humans and the environment were overblown.

"If you give a mouse enough of anything, you can make him sick," said Luke on the government lab tests.

Safer alternatives to coal tar have been developed, and Nirenberg said should a ban pass, he would help local companies make the transition to newer products. 

The city is awaiting a comprehensive water study before moving forward with the proposed prohibition of coal tar. The study is scheduled to be completed by spring 2015, which would likely be followed by a City Council vote. 

Meanwhile, Luke said he'll survive no matter the decision, but he felt the ban is an example of the city government going too far. 

"I'll adapt, but it will hurt some businesses in town," said Luke.


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