Coal Tar Sealant Alert

Dear Neighbor,

The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County request your help with a serious environmental and public health issue.  Here in the Midwest, coal tar sealants are often used to coat asphalt driveways, parking lots and playgrounds.  Human exposure to toxic coal tar sealant dust increases the risk of developing cancer, especially in children. Coal tar-coated particles in runoff harm fish and other organisms in our rivers, lakes and streams. We are asking your help to reduce this problem by setting an example by not using coal tar sealants on paved areas under your control and by providing information about safer alternatives to the public.

As the enclosed factsheet from the United States Geological Survey [1] describes, coal tar sealants contain extremely high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds (PAHs). PAHs have been shown to cause cancer, mutations, birth defects, or death in fish and other aquatic organisms. Coal tar is a known human carcinogen.  Asphalt sealant whose main ingredient is asphalt-based, not coal tar, is an alternative that contains much lower levels of PAHs.  In fact, many major retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, etc. have made the decision to only stock asphalt-based sealants.

We are requesting two specific things from your organization:

  • Lead by Example. We request that you curtail the use of coal tar sealants on pavements under your control. As an example, here is the resolution[2] that the eight municipal and township members of Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) adopted in January 2016 committing to not purchase or apply coal tar or other high PAH sealants.
  • Inform the Public. We also request that you let the people you serve know about the actions your agency is taking to reduce risks to people and the environment by eliminating the use of high PAH sealants and encourage them to do the same on their own properties. We are available to provide you with assistance in crafting brochures, writing newsletter articles, etc. BACOG’s brochure[3] is an excellent example of a public education piece.

We’d be happy to discuss this request further if you have questions and concerns. Please just call our office at 815-338-0393 and we can schedule a time for a call or a meeting. Thanks in advance for taking steps to address this serious issue.  We would appreciate hearing back from you on your plans. We would like to list your organization on our website ( as an entity that has taken action to address this serious issue.  You can call or email us at




Coal tar reduction advocacy in McHenry County

Fact sheet, US Geological Survey regarding coal tar sealants

 Coal tar sealant ban map

“Some 99 million gallons of coal tar sealant is used by Americans annually, she said in warning that the product contains cancer-causing chemicals. The material has been found to contaminate streams and lakes and to enter homes as dust particles that could be inhaled or ingested…”

“We are proponents of communities to stop using coal tar sealant on their properties, and we’re supportive of local bans,” said Cindy Skrukrud, clean water program director for the Chicago-based Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.” From 2015 article by freelance writer Sheryl DeVore



Illinois Community Passes State’s First Outright Coal Tar Sealer Ban