City Council approves ban on coal tar sealants

Sealant is used on parking lots, driveways, playgrounds

SAN ANTONIO – The Alamo City became the largest in the nation Thursday to ban the use of coal tar sealants. 

District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg proposed the ban in 2014 because of health concerns surrounding these sealants, which are often used to coat driveways and parking lots. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, coal tar sealants contain carcinogens and pose an increased risk of cancer, an assertion to which supporters of the ban point. 

"When you live near this area or when you work spraying these materials on the ground, you are exposed to higher levels of those contaminants," said Ana Sandoval, with the Air and Health Collaborative. 

"They'll have cleaner water. Cleaner water to drink and to swim in," Annalisa Peace said of the ban that ultimately passed.

Peace leads the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. 

Those against the coal tar ban pushed back, arguing that there is no scientific evidence to prove that the substance poses a real health risk. 

"It is still is the fact that the coal-tar based product lasts longer, protects better, and is a proven product," said Anne LeHuray, of the Pavement Coatings Technology Council. 

The most common alternative to coal tar-based sealants is an asphalt-based sealant, which LeHuray said does not protect as well as coal tar. 

"If people want to use alternative products, allow them. But to restrict people to just a single product without having a choice- for no environmental or health based benefit – doesn’t seem to make much sense to us," LeHuray added. 

The ban takes effect in 2017 and only applies to future use. 

During the presentation before city council members Thursday, city staff said San Antonio International Airport and Joint Base San Antonio do not use coal tar. 

The city doesn't either, according to Nirenberg. 

"Just like we removed lead paint from schools -- that there's this substance that is harmful, it’s toxic, will no longer be used in the city of San Antonio," he said. "And that's a very good thing."

Councilmen Joe Krier and Mike Gallagher voted against the ban.

City staff in coordination with the San Antonio Water System and the San Antonio River Authority would provide education and outreach to property owners and the pavement industry. 

Since 2005, 16 municipalities and 2 counties within the States of Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and the States of Washington, Minnesota, Edwards Aquifer Authority, City of Austin and most recently City of Annapolis, Maryland and City of San Marcos all have enacted some type of ban.

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