PavementCouncil.org submitted a Request for Correction (RfC) of information to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Data Quality Act (DQA). The RfC challenges the EPA’s reliance on outdated papers that offer theories about the alleged impact of refined coal tar-based sealants (RTS) on the environment. All of the studies cited by the EPA were published years ago by staff affiliated with the US Geological Survey (USGS) or the City of Austin. Most of the conclusions proffered in these publications have been called into question by more recent peer reviewed articles and comments published in well respected scientific journals. Up to now, the more recent literature concerning RTS has been overlooked by the EPA. The RfC is available on EPA’s Information Quality web site.
One EPA publication that specifically has been challenged can be found at the EPA’s CADDIS website. CADDIS is an EPA initiative developed to help scientists and engineers assess the manner in which aquatic systems can be affected by a large number of “stressors,” such as those commonly associated with urbanization. Guidance offered by the EPA at this website emphasizes how important it is to consider all relevant evidence when determining the cause or causes of various environmental impacts. The guidance strongly encourages consultation with industry stakeholders who may have important insights and expertise. However, when it comes to RTS, the EPA thus far has failed to solicit input from PavementCouncil.org or consider industry funded research. This oversight has forced PavementCouncil.org to use the formal RfC process as a way to update the EPA, and the public, about the manner in which the scientific literature has evolved. As pointed out in the RfC, the EPA also has overlooked reports and studies prepared by other government agencies that have failed to support the RTS hypotheses offered by the USGS and the City of Austin in their older studies.
PavementCouncil.org also seeks correction of a document titled Coal-Tar Sealcoat, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, and Stormwater Pollution which purports to define a “Stormwater Best Management Practice.” Again, in generating this document, the EPA has relied on outdated articles published by the USGS and City of Austin team even though those articles have been critiqued in more recent peer reviewed publications. Such selective use of the scientific literature, citing articles only on one side of a scientific debate, is an example of what appears to be White Hat Bias (“bias leading to the distortion of information in the service of what may be perceived to be righteous ends.”). Since evidence documented in many articles and comments on RTS have been omitted from this second EPA document, PavementCoatings.org was forced to address these issues as well in the RfC that has just been filed.
PavementCouncil.org has challenged the USGS studies via three DQA filings since May, 2013, available on the USGS web site. That process is still ongoing.
What is Pollution Prevention?
Pollution Prevention (P2) is just one of many elements of sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission, formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) defined sustainability as “humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”(World Commission On Environment and Development, 1987, p. 8). Figure 1 shows this concept in a graphical form.
Figure 1-The Three Spheres of Sustainability
In this discussion, we will be examining the environmental sphere and how it affects the environmental sphere.
Defining source reduction and pollution prevention
The notion of Pollution Prevention in the United States was created by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 (Habicht, 1992). On the surface, the concept is simple enough, prevent pollution from entering into the environment. First glances could be deceiving, especially considering how this concept is defined.
In order to define pollution prevention, one must understand how source reduction is defined. Habicht (1992) states the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 defines pollution prevention as source reduction which is defined by the act as follows:
●”increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, water, or other resources, or protection of natural resources by conservation” (p. 3);
●”reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contamination entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment or disposal” (p. 3);
●”reduces the hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants” (p. 3).
As one can plainly see, the concepts of source reduction and pollution prevention can be defined within sustainability.
US EPA and the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 states the following goals for pollution prevention:
●pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible (Habicht, 1992);
●pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible (Habicht, 1992);
●pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible (Habicht, 1992); and
●disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner (Habicht, 1992).
Figure 2-Pollution Prevention Hierarchy (US Army IMCOM Installation Management Command-European Region: Directorate of Public Works, n.d.)
Problems associated with pollution prevention
Who defines what is a pollutant or contaminant?
Simple questions require a simple answer. US EPA and other federal level agencies, state-level environmental agencies, county and local level governments, and environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO). Using the example of coal tar based pavement sealer (CTS), advocate scientists performed a risk assessment that this product increased the risk of cancer, especially to children (Williams, Mahler, & Van Metre, 2012). Industry’s response was that the USGS risk assessment was grossly overstated especially considering that coal tar topical solutions have been cleared by USFDA as safe and that the author’s claims were based upon assumptions that were statistically insignificant (Magee & Keating-Connolly, 2013). The question must be asked why USGS was performing risk assessments, which they are not chartered to perform. Another question is why two USGS hydrologist were involved with a risk assessment, neither scientists is remotely qualified to perform.
Pollution Prevention is vaguely defined
Another major issue associated with Pollution Prevention is that it is vaguely defined. The theoretical framework and definitions are all loosely defined. There are several reasons why this is done. First, any activity that is vaguely defined eludes oversight. It is much like telling a business person to “make money” but not giving them direction if they mean make a profit or make a sale. Another reason for vague definitions is that it allows agencies using P2 programs a wide path for decision-making in terms of products to demarket and deselect from the market place. These decisions are made under the guise of being environmentally unsustainable. This is eluded to by Habicht (1992) acknowledges this fact when he wrote “While the concept of pollution prevention is broadly applicable–a tool to accomplish many environmental tasks…”. Another example is given with Browner (1993) when she states “At the same time, we must acknowledge that the fundamental nature of our base programs must evolve to create a more hospitable environment for the transition from “end of pipe” treatment to pollution prevention”.
Pollution Prevention is not based on objective science
Another problem with this concept is that it is value-based, meaning that decision-making utilizing science will be bias toward public policy preferences. This can be illustrated in Browner (1993) where pollution prevention is referred to as “the new environmental ethic” (p. 1). Another example is shown in Habicht (1992) states that “EPA is seeking to integrate pollution prevention as an ethic throughout its activities…:” Finally, pollution prevention requires a “culture change”(Habicht, 1992). In the case of coal tar based pavement sealer, this is illustrated in several ways. First, the scientific stance that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is that the “science is settled” and not open to discussion. This stance is telling since there is a body of work that refutes the advocate’s claims and Minnesota passed it ban based on the precautionary principle (as per email amongst MPCA personnel). Another example of this value-based decision-making is that MPCA actively solicits schools and school districts (targeting children) about their findings about the dangers of coal tar based sealer. This is an illustration of the demarketing and deselection process in order to ban this product.
Economic benefits? Really?
EPA has made various claims regarding to benefits derived from pollution prevention by “regulation is less than effective as reducing pollution, pollution may shift from one source to another, economic benefits such as reduction or elimination (or minimization) of waste management or cleanup costs, more efficient manufacturing, strengthening economic competitiveness and sustainability of raw material use” (Browner, 1993). These claims would be really nice if they were true. The literature show that there are many factors that dictates if cost are reduced, wastes reduced or strengthens economic competitiveness. In addition, prior studies show that there is no consensus with regard to these savings or benefits associated with pollution control activities (Ambec, Cohen, Elgie, & Lanoie, 2013; Lanoie, Laurent-Lucchetti, Johnstone, & Ambec, 2011).
EPA grants in exchange for favorable state legislation?
In the case of Minnesota and their ban of coal tar based pavement sealer, Minnesota started their product ban program by providing grants to cities that ban the product(Legislature of the State of Minnesota, 2009). This is truly an example of a product with a price on its head. Browner (1993) states that P2 programs “will require flexibility in grants to states, and improved working relationships with other federal agencies that have a profound influence on the environment through their own behavior or policies”. MPCA provides an example of this relationship by its choosing to “phase-out” or ban the product via demarket and deselect processes, paid for by EPA grants (U.S. EPA-Greal Lakes Retoration Initative 2012; U.S. EPA-Pollution Prevention, 2013).
Ambec, S., Cohen, M. A., Elgie, S., & Lanoie, P. (2013). The Porter Hypothesis at 20: Can Environmental Regulation Enhance Innovation and Competitiveness? Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 7(1), 2-22. doi: 10.1093/reep/res016
Browner, C. M. (1993). Pollution Prevention Policy Statement: New directions for environmental protection. from http://infohouse.p2ric.org/ref/34/33485.pdf
Habicht, F. H. (1992). EPA Definition of Pollution Prevention. from http://www.epa.gov/p2/pubs/docs/pollprev.pdf
Lanoie, P., Laurent-Lucchetti, J., Johnstone, N., & Ambec, S. (2011). Environmental Policy, Innovation and Performance: New Insights on the Porter Hypothesis. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 20(3), 803-842. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-9134.2011.00301.x
Magee, B., & Keating-Connolly, J. (2013). Comment on “Cancer Risk from Incidental Ingestion Exposures to PAHs Associated with Coal-Tar-Sealed Pavement”. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(1), 868-869. doi: 10.1021/es404184q
U.S. EPA-Greal Lakes Retoration Initative (2012). 2011 grants. from http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/glri/2011grants.html
U.S. EPA-Pollution Prevention. (2013). Fiscal year 2012 pollution prevention grant summaries. from http://www.epa.gov/p2/pubs/grants/ppis/p2sum2012.html
US Army IMCOM Installation Management Command-European Region: Directorate of Public Works. (n.d.). Pollution Prevention-Legal Requirements. from http://www.grafenwoehr.army.mil/usag_dpw/environmental/p2/env_p2_legal.asp
UV, V. U. S. (2014). The Three Spheres of Sustainability. from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/sustainvu/cms/files/sustainability_spheres.png
Williams, E. S., Mahler, B. J., & Van Metre, P. C. (2012). Cancer Risk from Incidental Ingestion Exposures to PAHs Associated with Coal-Tar-Sealed Pavement. Environmental Science & Technology, 47(2), 1101-1109. doi: 10.1021/es303371t
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, Jan. 22, 2014 –EPA awarded a grant which established the Great Lakes Coal Tar Sealcoat PAH Reduction Project (“Project”). The stated goal of the Project was for the grantees to step in and convince the marketplace that refined tar-based pavement sealcoat (RTS) should be “voluntarily” phased-out and replaced with other products. There was no hearing, no solicitation of comments from industry, and no draft proposal. With the usual avenues for comment and interaction with government agencies thus closed, PavementCouncil.org submitted unsolicited comments to EPA Region 5, collaborating agencies and the public at large as part of an ongoing effort to provide a more balanced, accurate and scientifically supportable approach to the issues at hand. The letter was submitted on January 21, 2014
Currently, the Project is led by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the University of Wisconsin-Extension Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center, the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (which is affiliated with the University of Illinois), and the U.S. EPA Great Lakes Program Office. Over the past year, the Project has used a multimedia program to accomplish its goal of eliminating the use of RTS throughout the Midwest. In addition to the creation of a website which provides numerous links to articles and publications that support the phase-out of RTS, the Project has also engaged the marketplace with widespread email, direct mail and telephone campaigns to “educate” consumers, municipalities, contractors and other states about the alleged environmental, ecological and human hazards of RTS, and of the alleged need to transition to asphalt sealants. These efforts have culminated with Project participants, many of whom are cloaked with the appearance of governmental authority, pressuring contractors and consumers to sign statements in which they agree not to use RTS in the future. The results of these efforts are then posted on the Project website.
The campaign described above has been carried out without any reference to or citation of peer reviewed research that has called into question the very foundation of the conclusions offered by the Project. Thus, while using the language of “educating consumers and the public about RTS,” the Project actually is an example of unwarranted product deselection and advocacy conducted at taxpayer expense. The Project primarily relies upon chemical fingerprint modeling conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – modeling that has been shown to be flawed in identifying RTS as an important source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the environment. PavementCouncil.org has challenged the USGS’ findings by laying out the facts in Data Quality Act (DQA) filings, available via this link; by funding research published in peer-reviewed science journals, available via this link; and by directly informing government agencies and the public of the facts via presentations and comment letters such as that just provided to the Project, available here.
Based on the current state-of-the-science, PavementCouncil.org recommends that the Project be shut down or, at the least, suspended. If organizations participating in the Project are unable or not permitted to discontinue the Project, the Project must provide accurate and balanced information rather than incomplete and flawed science.