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Washington is first state in nation to ban toxic pavement sealants

OLYMPIA – Washington became the first state in the nation Thursday to ban toxic asphalt sealants made from cancer-causing industrial waste that have been spread over vast swaths of the nation’s cities and suburbs.

The toxic ingredients in coal tar-based sealants are turning up in ordinary house dust as well as in streams, lakes and other waterways at levels that concern government researchers.  The chemicals have been found in people’s driveways at concentrations that could require treatment by moon-suited environmental technicians if detected at similar levels at a toxic-waste cleanup site. The sealants are also applied on playgrounds and parking lots.

When Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the measure Thursday, Washington became the largest government to ban or restrict coal tar asphalt sealants. Last month, Prior Lake, Minn., joined a growing number of local governments to ban them.

Alternative, asphalt-based sealants, shed far fewer toxic particles, government tests show.

The Washington State legislation and a drive for a nationwide ban flowed from studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, which showed that components of the toxic sealants are increasing in many waterways, while levels of most other pollutants are declining. One study of 40 lakes nationwide conducted last year showed high levels of contamination in Lake Ballinger north of Seattle.

A 2009 Geological Survey study identified chemicals associated with the coal tar sealants in house dust at levels that worried researchers because they could contribute to longterm cancer risks, especially in young children who crawl around through – and might accidentally ingest – the toxic dust.

Byline: 

WA Legislature: Let's become first state to ban toxic asphalt sealants

The Washington House of Representatives this week passed and sent to Gov. Christine Gregoire legislation to make Washington the first state in the nation to ban toxic asphalt sealants that are ending up in people’s homes as well as polluting stormwater runoff and waterways.

Meanwhile, a federal scientist on Thursday briefed Congressional aides and others about threats to the environment and public health from sealing of driveways, parking lots and playgrounds with coaltar, a byproduct of steelmaking. The briefing was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who is seeking a nationwide ban on the toxic sealants.

The Washington State legislation and Doggett’s drive for a nationwide ban flowed from studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, which showed that constituents of the toxic sealants are increasing in many waterways, while levels of most pollutants are declining.

A 2009 Geological Survey study identified chemicals associated with the coaltar sealants in house dust at levels that worried researchers because they could contribute to longterm cancer risks, especially in young children who crawl around in – and accidentally ingest – the toxic dust.

InvestigateWest and msnbc.com partnered last year to publish the first major national story examining the toxic sealants.

Byline: 

Toxic parking lots shed dust that boosts kids' cancer risk, InvestigateWest says in major story

rm iwest mugOK, folks, it's the moment we've all been waiting for since we launched InvestigateWest last year: Our first big story is running today! And it's on msnbc.com, so we expect a lot of eyeballs to be on this 0ne.

This is an amazing tale about a series of studies that this week revealed that toxic dust from parking lots is making its way into Americans' homes in eyebrow-raising quantities. And because it's ending up in house dust, it's a particular worry for kids, for whom it raises lifetime cancer risks significantly, according to research led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Please go read the story, will you? We want to get all the clicks we can over at msnbc.com. But do come back and visit Dateline Earth in the next week or so, because there was really quite a bit we didn't get to get into, even in the decently in-depth treatment we were able to give the topic for msnbc.com.

InvestigateWest has been proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, including our independent coverage of the Copenhagen climate talks, organizing into a non-profit, getting an incredibly talented board up and running, and landing grants from the Bullitt Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

But this toxic parking lots piece is a great example of our main reason for being: In-depth journalism on the environment, public health and social-justice issues (although this coal tar thing, in an unusual twist, seems likely to be more of a problem for well-to-do suburban families than for poor folks.