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Coal Tar and High-PAH Pavement Sealant Ban in the District

photo of worker spraying coal tar


Under the Comprehensive Stormwater Management Enhancement Amendment Act of 2008, effective July 1, 2009, it is illegal to sell, use, or permit the use of coal tar pavement products in the District of Columbia. As of March 29, 2019, the Limitations on Products Containing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Amendment Act of 2018 expanded the law to include sealants containing steam cracked asphalt, also known as ethylene cracker residue, and any other products with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations greater than 0.1% (1000 ppm) by weight on the list of banned sealant products. Violators of this ban are subject to a daily fine of up to $2,500.

Who is regulated by the law?

  • Contractors hired to apply pavement sealant
  • Property owners, property managers, or anyone else who may use or permit the use of pavement sealant products on their property
  • Businesses and distributors that sell or offer for sale pavement sealant products

Purpose of the Law

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of toxic contaminants found in coal, crude oil, and gasoline and are produced from the heating or burning of carbon materials. The EPA and multiple studies have linked several PAHs to increased risk of cancer in humans, especially children, and fish. PAHs are commonly found in urban rivers. A 2004 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study linked PAHs to liver and skin tumors in as many as 2/3 of brown bullhead catfish in the Anacostia River.

Coal Tar fishSeveral studies have shown pavement sealant products containing high concentrations of PAHs are a major source of PAHs to rivers and streams. Pavement sealants are applied to asphalt-based driveways and parking lots as a protectant layer. The sealant becomes worn through exposure to the elements and use.

In Washington, DC, PAH-containing sealant particles and dust enter the air and are washed down storm drains and into our local streams and rivers, threatening aquatic life in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. The District’s ban on high-PAH pavement sealant products protects District communities and waterways from these toxic contaminants by preventing one of their common sources.

What are the requirements of the law?

Contractors, property owners, or anyone planning to seal part of their property must not use a banned sealant, including those that have coal tar or ethylene cracker residue as an ingredient, on their parking lot, driveway, or other surface. Businesses must not offer banned items for sale. Pavement sealant users, sellers, and distributors should check the product Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that lists product ingredients or components. Regulated entities must not purchase, sell, or use products that include:

  • Coal tar, which can be identified as “coal,” “tar,” “refined coal tar pitch,” or “RT-12” or a variation in the ingredients or as CAS numbers 65996-92-1, 65996-93-2, 65996-89-6, or 8007-45-2
  • Ethylene cracker residue, which can be identified as “steam-cracked petroleum residues,” steam-cracked asphalt,” “pyrolysis fuel oil,” “heavy fuel oil,” “ethylene tar,” “ethylene cracher residue,” or a variation in the ingredients or as CAS numbers 64742-90-1 or 69013-21-4
  • A PAH concentration higher than 0.1% by weight. This information is not available on product labels or Material Safety Data Sheets. DOEE is currently working to develop a list of compliant low-PAH products, which should be available in spring of 2020 and made public on this website.

The most environmentally friendly choice is to leave your property unsealed. If you opt to seal your driveway or lot, demand the use of a much less toxic asphalt-based sealer. Don’t allow a mixed product containing both coal tar and asphalt to be used. For new projects, consider using porous concrete.

What happens if I violate the law?

If you are found to have sold, used, or permitted to be used a banned sealant product, you are subject to a daily fine of up to $2500, which can be applied retroactively through the first date of known noncompliance. In addition, properties using a banned product will be required to remediate, which involves additional costs as limited methods are DOEE-approved.

One approved remediation option is removal via shot blasting. Shot blast machines use steel shot to pulverize the top layer of the surface, forming a dust. This dust is sucked into the machine using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. The dust collects in the back of the machine and is properly disposed of.

Homeowners may dispose of unused sealant products at District Household Hazardous Waste Disposal site.

Coal Tar Pavement Product Tip Line

Recently sealed parking lots appear to have a dark black sheen. Although it is not possible to visually distinguish between pavements sealed with compliant versus banned products, if a lot emits a strong chemical smell and/or you notice that the pavement has a glossy shine to it, please alert DOEE below via our tip line.

If you suspect that a business is in violation of the District's High-PAH Pavement Sealant Ban, please fill out the Coal Tar Tip form, or give us a call at 202-671-0080.

Did you know?

  • DOEE routinely inspects properties in the District for compliance with the pavement sealant ban. Violators can be fined as much as $2,500 per day since the first date of noncompliance (typically the date the lot was first sealed with the banned product)
  • Dust from coal-tar sealed parking lots contains about 8 times more toxic PAHs than undiluted used motor oil.
  • PAHs are toxic to mammals (including humans), birds, fish, amphibians and invertebrates.

For more information please contact Lillian Power ([email protected]) or (202-671-0080).

Additional Resources

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