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Coal-tar-based pavement sealcoat—Potential concerns for human health and aquatic life

April 20, 2016

Introduction

Sealcoat is the black, viscous liquid sprayed or painted on many asphalt parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds to protect and enhance the appearance of the underlying asphalt. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), academic institutions, and State and local agencies have identified coal-tar-based pavement sealcoat as a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in urban and suburban areas and a potential concern for human health and aquatic life.

Key Findings:

Human Health Concerns—As coal-tar-based sealcoat ages, it wears into small particles with high levels of PAHs that can be tracked into homes and incorporated into house dust. For people who live adjacent to coal-tar-sealcoated pavement, ingestion of PAH-contaminated house dust and soil results in an elevated potential cancer risk, particularly for young children. Exposure to PAHs, especially early in childhood, has been linked by health professionals to an increased risk of lung, skin, bladder, and respiratory cancers.

Aquatic Life Concerns—Runoff from coal-tar-sealcoated pavement, even runoff collected more than 3 months after sealcoat application, is acutely toxic to fathead minnows and water fleas, two species commonly used to assess toxicity to aquatic life. Exposure to even highly diluted runoff from coal-tar-sealcoated pavement can cause DNA damage and impair DNA repair. These findings demonstrate that coal-tar-sealcoat runoff can remain a risk to aquatic life for months after application.

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