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Parking lot sealcoat: a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban and suburban environments

January 19, 2006

Collaborative studies by the City of Austin and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) have identified coal-tar based sealcoat—the black, shiny emulsion painted or sprayed on asphalt pavement such as parking lots—as a major and previously unrecognized source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination. Several PAHs are suspected human carcinogens and are toxic to aquatic life. Studies in Austin, Texas, showed that particles in runoff from coal-tar based sealcoated parking lots had concentrations of PAHs that were about 65 times higher than concentrations in particles washed off parking lots that had not been sealcoated. Biological studies, conducted by the City of Austin in the field and in the laboratory, indicated that PAH levels in sediment contaminated with abraded sealcoat were toxic to aquatic life and were degrading aquatic communities, as indicated by loss of species and decreased numbers of organisms. Identification of this source of PAHs may help to improve future strategies for controlling these compounds in urban water bodies across the Nation where parking lot sealcoat is used.

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