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Source: Niagara Gazette

After Tonawanda Coke verdict, environmentalists turn attention to coal tar

Posted: March 21, 2014
Originally Published: March 21, 2014

Niagara Gazette — In the shadow of the Tonawanda Coke sentence doled out this week in U.S. Federal Court, several local environmental groups called on elected leaders Thursday to ban coal tar.

While Tonawanda Coke violated federal Clean Air laws for releasing toxic benzene into surrounding neighborhoods for years, it also illegally left raw coal tar on the ground near the plant.

But, the process of using coal tar sealant on driveways and parking lots still remains commonplace, a technique that environmentalists call highly carcinogenic.

Erin Heaney, director of the Clean Air Coalition, said years of illness in areas surrounding Tonawanda Coke shows how harmful coal tar can be, a message hammered home by this week’s sentencing and fines.

“We need New York state to take action to prevent this substance from being spread into our neighborhoods,” she said.

And while Legislation has been introduced to ban coal tar sealants in New York state, Brian Smith, communications director at Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said residents have waited long enough.

“It should come as no surprise that the dirty operations at places like Tonawanda Coke contribute to a very dirty product,” he said. “Coal tar sealants continue to unnecessarily threaten public health and the environment across New York state, and should be banned without delay.”

Others maintain that there is mounting evidence that coal tar pavement sealant – which is applied to the top of driveways and parking lots – presents environmental threats that can cause cancer and expensive clean-ups. Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have already enacted coal tar sealant bans or restrictions.

“A major ongoing source of pollution to our waterways includes surface run-off from roads and parking lots containing PAH’s that pose a significant threat to human and ecosystem health,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. “For over a decade our community has invested nearly $100 million to remove PAH’s from the Buffalo River and other local waterways, and the continued use of coal tar sealants would undermine that investment and slow our progress towards cleaner water.”