It has been an exciting few weeks for environmental legislation here in the District, headlined by a ban of coal-tar pavement products and the signing into law of the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act.
Effective at the beginning of July, the District of Columbia has made it illegal to use, sell or permit the use of coal-tar pavement products. This is being done to curb the flow of a toxic chemical contaminants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the Anacostia River, Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.
What happens: Rain washes the PAHs of the coal-tar sealants from paved surfaces into rivers and streams. The reduction in PAH loads from paved parking lots could be as much as 90 percent in the lots left unsealed or sealed with products that are not coal-tar based, and these types of products are readily available.
PAHs have been shown to cause cancerous tumors in animals, even in single doses. In fish and invertebrates, adverse health effects have included cataracts, fin erosion, liver and reproductive abnormalities, and even death. In fact, a recent study has shown that PAH exposure is likely to be the cause for the fact that nearly 60 percent of collected fish from the Anacostia River have liver tumors.
The penalty for using, selling or allowing the use of coal-tar products is a fine of up to $2,500 per day. The coal-tar ban is part of the Comprehensive Stormwater Management Enhancement Amendment Act of 2008.
In addition to the ban on coal-tar pavement products, Mayor Fenty signed The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009 into law last week. Under this law, beginning January 1, 2010 District businesses will charge customers five cents for every disposable paper or plastic carryout bag with the proceeds going to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. The legislation also requires that these bags be recyclable and carry a message encouraging recycling. The bag fee is the first of its kind in the nation, and will not apply to bags used for newspapers, produce, hardware, frozen foods, plants, bakery items or prescription drugs. I say it's about time these kinds of measures are taken, and am pleased with the trend to cut out as much disposable plastic/paper as we can. While a five cent charge may not be what it takes to get folks off of disposable packaging, it's a small step in the right direction and will at least serve the purpose of making people more aware of their habits.