Minnesota sealant firm takes stand vs. pollution

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2012 - 8:54 PM

Jet-Black International, the nation's largest driveway-sealing company, has voluntarily agreed to stop using coal tar.

An Eagan-based company that is a national leader in driveway coating said Friday that it will stop using coal-tar-based sealants to help curb chemical pollution in stormwater ponds.

Jet-Black International said its franchisees in Minnesota and Wisconsin will switch to newly developed asphalt-based coatings by next year. The company said it also has recommended that its franchisees in 10 other states make the switch.

"We are concerned that continued use of coal-tar sealants will lead to unsustainable and costly pond clean-ups at the expense of the citizens of Minnesota," the company said in a statement.

The company's voluntary switch is a victory for pollution control officials, who have campaigned to end the use of coal-tar-based sealants, long an industry standard. An estimated 85 million gallons of the sealants are sold annually.

"They are doing the responsible thing," said Tom Ennis, an engineer who works for the city of Austin, Texas, and tracks the issue on a blog called Coal Tar-Free America. "It is what we who have worked on the science have been waiting for. If the industry just looks at the facts and stops arguing, then real progress can happen."

The Pavement Coatings Technology Council, a Virginia-based trade group for 20 manufacturers of the coatings, continues to dispute the science, contending that other sources such as wood smoke and exhaust are the real problem.

But environmental officials say the sealants break down, leaching into the environment a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), linked to cancer. Increasingly, officials say, PAHs are turning up in the sediment of stormwater ponds, boosting disposal costs when ponds are periodically dredged by cities.

Some large retailers, including Lowe's and Home Depot, have stopped selling the coal-tar sealants. The state of Washington and Washington, D.C., have banned them, as have communities in several states, including 13 in Minnesota.

Jet-Black co-owner Nick Kelso said he became convinced that coal-tar products were a source of pollution after reviewing the science. He said the company, with 125 Minnesota employees and $5.2 million in sales last year, is the largest asphalt-maintenance company in the world.

"This debate is no longer about theories mired in political rhetoric from all sides," Jet-Black said in a statement.

At its annual winter franchisee convention last week, Jet-Black heard no opposition to the change, Kelso said. New asphalt emulsions, which are not linked to pollution, have been improved, making them as durable as the coal-tar versions, he added.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090

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