Washington DC residents are getting an ominous sounding warning in the mail from the District’s Department of the Environment. It’s a post card that has a picture of workers applying coal tar on a street, with the words “COAL TAR PAVEMENT PRODUCTS BANNED” loudly super-imposed.
On the back it informs you that as of July 1st 2009 it became illegal to “sell, use, or permit to be used on your property coal-tar pavement products,” under penalty of a $2,500 fine. The fine applies equally to homeowners and contractors. The card goes on to explain that coal-tar pavement products contain highly toxic chemicals harmful to humans and animals. These chemicals leach into the storm drains and eventually end up in local rivers (the Anacostia and Potomac) and ultimately the delicate Chesapeake Bay.
Although the notice comes almost a year late, I think it’s great that the city is taking such proactive steps to protect the environment. This comes on the heels of a city resolution imposing a 5 cent fee for every plastic bag a shopper requests at local stores, which has drastically cut the amount of noxious plastic bags floating around out there and is encouraging people to bring their own reusable bags.
The post card points out that there are plenty of alternative asphalt-based products out there that will do the same job as coal tar, without nearly as many of the environmental problems. Given the toxicity of coal tar combined with easily available alternatives, this decision is a no-brainer and I hope other municipalities do the same.