Support a Nationwide Ban on Toxic Coal Tar

Target: Environmental Protection Agency

Goal: Urge the EPA to establish a nationwide ban on the use of coal tar sealant, which is known to release contaminants and toxins into the air.

Coal tar is a liquid used as a protective sealant for pavement around the nation. This type of sealant made with coal tar is widespread, and marketed as a means for keeping parking lot pavement in good condition for a longer period of time. However, a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides substantial evidence that these sealants emit highly toxic contaminants, known as aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), into the atmosphere at higher rates than vehicular emissions.

Coal tar sealant, which is comprised of 50% PAHs, can be found on many parking lots, playgrounds, and driveways around the United States. Sealant made with coal tar is found disproportionately in central and eastern America—85 million gallons of coal tar is used each year. Why should we be so concerned? Put simply, PAHs can cause cancer and a host of growth and development abnormalities and deformities, making children’s exposure to the contaminant especially troubling.

These contaminants are finding ways indoors as well as outdoors. For a while now, scientists have believed PAHs through food consumption to be the primary method by which children are exposed. However, further studies by Baylor University and the USGS maintain that children living in close proximity to pavement sealed with coal tar are exposed to twice the amount of PAHs through ingestion of contaminated dust than from food. Ingestion of contaminated dust particles by children living near coal-tar-sealed pavement is 14 times higher than children living near unsealed pavement.

Such widespread use of coal tar is unnecessary because there are suitable alternatives. Asphalt-based sealant is used mostly on the west coast of the United States, and is a viable alternative. Asphalt-based products have 1/1000th of the PAH levels that coal products have. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted studies of its own concerning run-off from coal tar. One study, the Assessment of Water Quality of Runoff from Sealed Asphalt Surfaces, found runoff from coal tar based sealant to be exponentially more potent in PAHs than asphalt based sealant. The EPA concluded that banning coal tar altogether might be the most cost effective way to combat the pollution problems caused by the sealant in the long run.

To date, a number of state governments have banned the use of coal tar sealant. Coal tar based sealant is also banned in the European Union. It would seem that a national ban on such a noxious substance is the next logical step. Please sign below to urge the EPA to adopt a safe nationwide policy.


Dear Environmental Protection Agency,

The time for a nationwide ban on coal tar sealant is now. Such a wide base of evidence exists supporting a ban for environmental, health and economic reasons, that not enacting one would be to ignore scientific fact.

Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and Baylor University identify the dangerous potential of coal tar sealant. Not only do coal tar-based products contain 1,000 times higher levels of PAHs than asphalt-based products, but there is evidence suggesting that PAHs released from coal tar sealant may be emitted at higher rates than released from vehicles.

PAHs, which are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic, are also finding their way inside homes where children are especially susceptible. From the study conducted by the USGS, researchers found children living in close proximity to pavement sealed with coal tar to receive more than 14 times higher incidence of PAH exposure from accidental ingestion of dust particles than children living near unsealed pavement.

So far, a number of states in the U.S. have motioned to and successfully banned coal tar sealant—the European Union has also banned coal tar products. It does not make sense to keep using such a poisonous, toxic substance when there are alternatives. Asphalt-based sealant products have significantly smaller PAHs concentrations than coal tar and are much less toxic.

Please consider a nationwide ban on coal tar based products. This ban is in the best interest of the environment and public health, and will be the most economically viable option in the long term.


[Your Name Here]


Photo credit: Andre Um via Flickr

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  1. Thank you for putting this petition out there to end the use of toxic waste that is a risk to people and the environment as an asphalt beautifier! If people want to learn more about this issue, go to my website by googling “coal tar free america”. There you will find the latest science, opinion, videos, and legislative news dedicated to this topic.

  2. Show me/us proof positive that pavement sealcoated with coal tar has resulted in any cancer or actual increase in illness. When these studies were being investigated, show me the “control” that was being used as a baseline and thereby showing the increase in PAH’s. Since the ban in Austin,TX. has the PAH levels gone down?

    Isn’t it true that “coal tar” is used in dandurff shampoos and skin medications? Isn’t it also true that “coal tar” is used in vitamins?

    • Curt:

      You ask some good questions, that some folks may not know are not new to this issue.

      With respect to cancer and coal tar sealants, how many people would have to get cancer, have depressed IQ, or a host of other ailments before the coal tar industry voluntarily stopped selling it? One? One hundred? How many cancer deaths does it take for the tobacco industry to stop selling its products? Will the sealant industry be more responsive or will it go down the same denying, delaying, deflecting path?

      What if we had a standard lab test that showed the carcinogenic properties of PAH containing materials? What if that test was developed by industry? What if that test was run on coal tar sealants? Would you believe that? Well there is an ASTM test, developed by industry that the inventor/chemist ran on coal tar sealants and asphalt sealants. It actually shows real mutations happening in a petri dish.

      What did it show? Asphalt sealants are non-carcinogenic and coal tar sealants are nearly off the charts carcinogenic. Google “just how toxic are coal tar sealants” to read the results. Is that enough?

    • It is also true if you stick you arm in coal tar sealer it will burn the skin off, it’s also true mold doesn’t grow on coal tar and does grow on AE sealant

      • it’s time for coal tar sealants to be ban nation wide, there are plenty of eco friendly sealcoat alternatives to coal tar sealants out there.

  3. Jane Davidson says:

    These are the most toxic of compounds, must be discontinued and substitutes found.

  4. Just last week a ban was introduced to Congress to ban this stuff, but it won’t be easy! Read more about it here:

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