Robert McClure

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.


Why did Copenhagen cops arrest InvestigateWest photographer covering climate protest?

Try not to get arrested.

That was my advice to the young journalists traveling thousands of miles to cover the United Nations climate-treaty negotiations going on in Copenhagen this month. I said it because it's a truism: a journalist in jail can't file. He or she is not able to do what he or she is there to do -- send back information for the world to see. And we knew there were likely to be some massive arrests as young activists sought in Copenhagen to spur real commitments to tackling climate change.

Fortunately, InvestigateWest Editor and Executive Director Rita Hibbard was part of the discussion. She quickly followed up my admonition with something like: "But make sure you're close enough to capture the action." She emphasized that we can't very well cover a protest march without being pretty close to the marchers, and that we had a right to be there.


InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow found himself yesterday trying to balance those two pieces of advice in the blur of a fast-moving demonstration. He was in a group of about 275 demonstrators arrested when Copenhagen cops cracked down on a protest that, to that point at least, had been peaceful. (It should be said, though, that the protesters had been pretty open about the fact that they were trying to shut down Copenhagen's harbor.)

Now, Chris probably could have gotten away. InvestigateWest correspondent Alexander Kelly, photograph Mark Malijan and videographer Blair Kelly were there and managed to scoot. But should Chris have been arrested? Absolutely not! It really honks me off that the police not only detained him at the scene -- it's possible to make a mistake in the heat of the moment -- but insisted on taking him to one of the makeshift holding areas that are serving as jails for the climate protesters.