Kids swing on the Island Park playground at the 2018 Root River Festival.

RACINE — The City of Racine is about to ban the use of coal tar sealants, a known carcinogen often applied to driveways and parking lots.

Tuesday evening the Racine City Council passed ordinance 0021-19 which bans the sale, application and use of coal tar sealants. Mayor Cory Mason is scheduled to sign the ordinance Friday morning, Aug. 23, putting it into effect.

The signing is set for 9 a.m. in Colbert Park, 519 Dodge St.

According to Mason’s office, coal tar-based sealants are coatings typically applied to driveways and parking lots, and they are a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) a known carcinogen. Studies conducted by Clean Wisconsin indicate that coal-tar-based sealants are a primary source of PAHs in the Root River.

Mason’s office said Racine is the second-largest Wisconsin city, after Milwaukee, to pass a coal tar sealant ban. Dane County, which includes the City of Madison, has also banned coal tar sealants.

“Studies have already shown elevated levels of PAHs in the waterways of Racine, and bans on coal tar sealant products in other municipalities have been effective in reducing the presence of these chemicals,” stated ordinance sponsor Alderwoman Natalia Taft of the 13th District.

“Children exposed to coal tar sealant have a cancer risk that is 14 times higher than average, and coal tar sealant releases pollution into waterways that is similar to PCBs and DDT,” stated Jon Richards, a consultant for Clean Wisconsin and Lakeshore Natural Resource Partners. “Racine is protecting children and Lake Michigan by banning coal tar sealant. It has joined the growing list of communities on Lake Michigan that have taken this important step.”

When Clean Wisconsin’s team tested various sites along the Root River in 2018, Colbert Park was the site with the highest readings of PAH contamination in the city.

‘Impaired’ river

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources considers the Root River to be “impaired” based on the presence of one or more pollutants and associated quality impacts. However, the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network has been implementing the Root River Watershed Restoration Plan since 2016, a plan that extends until 2024.

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“Continuing to improve the water quality of the Root River is essential to promoting healthy ecosystems,” Mason stated. “The City of Racine’s Department of Public Works committed to using asphalt-based sealants, a less-toxic alternative to tar-based sealants, years ago.”

“The Public Health Department is supportive of the ban on coal tar sealcoat products within the City of Racine, due to their extremely high concentrations of PAHs, which have been classified as known human carcinogens. PAHs, along with lead, accumulate in dust and sediments, where they can be ingested by children, some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Julie Kinzelman, Laboratory Director of the City of Racine’s Public Health Department.

“This ordinance is another example of our continuing commitment to the protection of public health within the community.”

Mason’s office said the passing of this ordinance is timed to coincide with the annual Root River Festival this weekend.

It takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Root River Environmental Education Community Center (REC), 1301 W. Sixth St.

Root River Festival in spirit of modern Chautauqua
“Continuing to improve the water quality of the Root River is essential to promoting healthy ecosystems.” Racine Mayor Cory Mason

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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