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Critics say pavement sealants are hazardous to health

Toxins in coal tar sealants have been shown to cause cancer.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Toxins in coal tar sealants have been shown to cause cancer.

Each year, Americans spread about 85 million gallons of coal tar sealants on their driveways to brighten asphalt pavement and prevent cracking. Unfortunately, the stuff known as seal coat contains a variety of cancer-causing toxins. Joe Wood, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says those chemicals wear off over time. They can be carried into your home on your shoes or washed into waterways.

“You know it gets into house dust, and you get exposed to it through breathing or touching things," he explains. "Young children are the most vulnerable, because they stick their hands in their mouth more often, and they get a higher dose of house dust than the rest of us.”

Fortunately, he notes, many consumers are switching to safer products.

“VDOT does not use these materials, because they have concerns about it. They don’t find it to be the optimal product. Home Depot, Lowe’s – the big box stores – do not sell these products, because they find there are alternatives at the same price, and they’re worried about liability.”

But toxic coal tar sealants are still on the market.

“I’m in Richmond, and I called around to about ten different places asking for these coal tart sealants," Wood recalls. "For about seven of them, that was the top product.”

Now, he and other scientists are calling on state lawmakers to ban their use in Virginia.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief