The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a bill that will prohibit the use and sale of certain coal-tar products after recent studies showed they were partially responsible for contaminating Lake Whetstone and Gunners Lake with a carcinogen.
“The county analyzed the sediment and concluded that a principal contributor to [the contamination] was coal tar,” said Council President Roger Berliner. “It was not presenting a safety issue per say because [the carcinogen] was in the sediment and not going to move from there, but it’s not good things. There are establishments like Lowes that no longer sell this particular product because they have concluded that this is not such a good thing for our environment and our county department of environmental protection came in and said this is not a good thing for our environment and this is actually one of those things we can control.”
The contaminant found in both lakes is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies seven PAH compounds as probable human carcinogens. Coal tar and coal-tar pitch are Group 1 carcinogens, according to a memorandum written by Robert Drummer, the senior legislative attorney for the county, and Amanda Mihill, a legislative attorney for the county.
“According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PAHs are problematic because several are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and/or teratogenic to aquatic life, and at least seven are probable human carcinogens,” said Bob Hoyt, director of the Department of Environmental Protection.
The bill’s purpose is to “(1) prohibit the use and sale of coal tar pavement products in the county; (2) require enforcement by the director of the Department of Environmental Protection; (3) amend the titles of Chapter 19; and (4) generally amend the county laws regarding water quality.” The maximum penalty for a civil violation, according to the bill, is $1,000 for an initial or repeat offense, and each day a violation continues would be considered a separate offense.
“At the end of the day we said, you know, we’re going to trust our county’s assessment with respect to this, we’re going to trust the government studies that suggest this is a problem and we’re going to say no to this particular product,” said Berliner.
The law will be overseen by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“What we basically found at the end, this was the only thing that was a reasonable solution to protecting our residents and made the most sense in understanding and discovering these coal tar pavement products that aren’t even being used by the county department of transportation because of concerns that they have, why would we then allow them to be used by the private residences and then put them at risk when we as a county don’t do that. So it’s really a common sense measure and it’s a preventative measure to make sure we are protecting all our county residents.”
The division chief of watershed management for the Department of Environmental Protection said “No Fishing” signs should be erected.
“Because we don’t know, because we haven’t gone through a full analysis, my inclination is to be on the safe side and tell people they can’t fish,” said Steven Shofar, division chief of watershed management for the Department of Environmental Protection for Montgomery County. “But again, we’re still evaluating.”