Seven Minnesota Cities File Lawsuits Against Manufacturers Of Refined Coal Tar Products
January 3, 2019
Together with several other Minnesota cities, the City of Golden Valley has filed a federal lawsuit against seven refiners of coal tar for allegedly contaminating numerous stormwater ponds with chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Bloomington, Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, and White Bear Lake also filed lawsuits.
PAHs are found in coal tar sealants, used throughout the region by paving companies and homeowners to beautify roads and driveways until Minnesota banned their sale because of their danger to the environment and to people.
The refined coal tar products at issue are made from raw or crude coal tar – a byproduct of coal coking – and contain between 15 and 30 percent PAHs by weight. According to the US Geological Survey, the pavement sealing product that ends up on a driveway typically contains 35,000 to 200,000 mg/kg (parts per million, or ppm) PAHs, about 100 times more PAHs than in used motor oil. The pavement sealants wear out after exposure to the elements, tires, and snowplows, releasing small particles containing PAHs and other chemicals from the refined coal tar into the environment. These particles spread widely, including into urban lakes and ponds, where they are harmful to the environment and impose expensive cleanup costs on local government.
The suits allege the defendants marketed and sold the refined coal tar products for use in pavement coatings knowing they were toxic and not safe.
The lawsuits seek the costs necessary to protect public health from exposure to PAHs during stormwater pond dredging operations and for disposing of the waste to ensure it does not escape into the environment afterwards. Because of PAH pollution from refined coal tar products, large amounts of material removed from the cities’ stormwater retention ponds and other stormwater infrastructure is categorized as contaminated waste that requires special handling, drastically increasing cities’ disposal costs. As a result, the cities are seeking to recover the costs associated with increased monitoring and testing of stormwater sediments and increased disposal costs for PAH-contaminated dredged waste.
The total cost to clean up PAHs from refined coal tars statewide is estimated to be, at minimum, in the hundreds of millions dollars.
The lawsuits, filed by the law firms of Weitz & Luxenberg, Super Law Group, and Gray Plant Mooty, allege that the coal tar refined by Koppers Inc, Ruetgers Canada Inc, Rain Carbon Holdings, Rain Carbon, LLC, Stella-Jones Corp, Coppers Creek Chemical Corporation, and Lone Star Specialty Products, LLC, is responsible for widespread pollution and costly environmental problems incurred and to be incurred by the cities.
The City of Golden Valley retained the firms on a contingent fee basis and will not pay legal fees or costs if there is no recovery in the lawsuit.
For FAQs about storm water ponds, coal tar, PAHs, and litigation, visit the Storm Water page on the City website.
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