By: Bill Clutter
Meet the students of Burleigh Manor Middle School who are already making a political impact to protect the environment.
On Wednesday February 26th, 2020, students from Burleigh Manor Middle School converged on the state capitol in Annapolis, Maryland, to persuade state lawmakers to ban coal tar sealants.
Slide prepared by Burleigh Manor Middle School.
The students began this project more than a year ago when they were students at Centennial Lane Elementary School located in Ellicott City, a suburb of Baltimore. Their teacher, Eric Pellegrino, read about another community that had banned coal tar sealants, and had his 5th grade class examine the health effects of coal tar. The students were successful in convincing officials in Howard County to ban coal tar sealants in 2018.
Pellegrino contacted author Bill Clutter after learning about a rare childhood cancer epidemic that was caused by coal tar exposure in Taylorville, Illinois three decades ago. In 1987, Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS) excavated a one-acre area to a depth of 10 feet, removing over 50,000 gallons of coal tar that had been abandoned in underground tanks. The removal was conducted under a business-friendly Voluntary Cleanup Program that allowed that utility company undertake the cleanup of coal tar contamination at a former coal gasification facility without Superfund oversight.
A private investigator, Clutter began his investigation of the Taylorville case after he discovered a similar epidemic in Morgan City, Louisiana. That epidemic occurred following an acute airborne release of coal tar from what was then the world’s largest hazardous waste incinerator, Marine Shale Processors (MSP). Five cases of neuroblastoma were diagnosed in Morgan City within 18 months after MSP began burning coal tar in a former rotary lime kiln. Scientists from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, initially planned to deny MSP operating permits, but the governor leaned on regulators to allow MSP to operate. The owner of MSP had contributed over $75,000 in campaign contributions to then Governor Edwin Edwards. MSP was shut down after the USEPA filed a lawsuit citing violations of the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
In 1991, a civil suit was filed in Taylorville against CIPS by four families whose children developed neuroblastoma. By the time the case went to trial, a total of 7 children in Taylorville had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Only three of the children survived. After a six-month trial, a jury awarded the families $3.2 million, which was upheld in a landmark decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2002.
CIPS used foam and plastic to contain fugitive dust during the excavation to remove coal tar contamination. A scientist working for the engineering firm hired by CIPS warned the utility that it risked causing elevated rates of cancer if they failed to control air emissions. This scientist recommended a containment dome to prevent the release of coal tar, which was ignored by the utility.
Now as 7th graders in teacher Robyn Page’s class, the students have their sights on a state-wide ban. They persuaded Delegate Vaughn M. Stewart III to sponsor House Bill 553, called The Safer Sealant Act, which if passed, would ban coal tar sealants in the state of Maryland.
Slide prepared by Burleigh Manor Middle School.
The students have prepared a Power Point presentation that they will use at Wednesday’s hearing, which cites the case of Donaldson v. CIPS, the story of that case is the basis of the book by Bill Clutter called Coal Tar: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America’s Children. The release date for the book is scheduled for Earth Day 2020. Those interested in obtaining the book can make a tax-deductible donation to www.investigatinginnocence.org of $20 or more to receive a free copy.
The students are supported by Austin, Texas scientist Thomas Ennis, who runs a not-for-profit organization www.coaltarfreeusa.com that adopted the first ban on coal tar sealants by the city council in Austin, TX.
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Written Testimony of Thomas Ennis
Submitted in Support of HB 553
February 20, 2020
Maryland Environment and Transportation Committee
Thank you for taking up this life-saving legislation to restrict the use of coal tar and high PAH pavement sealers in the State of Maryland.
My name is Tom Ennis and I helped Austin, TX pass, defend and implement the nation’s first coal tar sealer ban. I have supported many others across the US since then and I support this bill as well.
This is a bill that is ripe for passage.
The SCIENCE is clear. Over 26 research institutions have found that coal tar sealers are a danger to humans and the environment.1 That’s why the AMA supports the elimination of this product.2
It is also why Morgan State University found that Chesapeake Bay oysters are affected by the chemicals from this product and said,
This study’s results provide evidence that PAHs entering an aquatic ecosystem from runoff from road surfaces have the potential to inhibit oyster reproduction by negatively impacting three critical processes in the early life cycle of the Eastern oyster.3
The SUPPORT is clear. Local government restrictions on this product apply to more than 40% of Maryland’s population. It is time to make that 100%. A map showing these bans is at the footnoted link.4
The SUPPLY is ready. Non-toxic sealers are numerous and similar in quality and price.5
In 2007 Home Depot and Lowes stopped selling coal tar products because of their liability.6 I hope that Maryland will heed the advice of a Councilmember from Montgomery County:
“If coal tar sealers are not good enough for the shelves of Home Depot and Lowes, then it isn’t good enough for the paved surfaces of our community.”
If I can answer any of your questions, please don’t hesitate to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sincerely,
Thomas E. Ennis, PE, LEED AP