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CLES Students Lead Legislative Push to Ban Coal-Tar Sealants

August 30th, 2018

Student group photo at meeting.

HCPSS students hope to see the fruits of their lobbying efforts this fall, when the Howard County Council decides if it will ban the use of coal-tar sealants in the county. Last school year, Centennial Lane Elementary School fifth graders spent months researching and lobbying against the use of these sealants, which are used to recondition asphalt surfaces and come with serious environmental and health concerns.

The students learned about the issues surrounding coal-tar sealants in G/T Resource Teacher Eric Pellegrino’s Curriculum Extension Unit focused on water pollution, in January. The sealants have already been banned in nearby areas, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Washington, D.C., but the class quickly discovered that Howard County permitted their use.

“After reading multiple articles about them, I learned how dangerous these sealants are when placed on any types of surfaces,” said student Alex Kwas. “I know that a big step toward having a healthy community is having them banned.”

Inspired to take action, a group of students then formed the Coal Tar Seminar, which met during lunch and recess breaks for the rest of the school year, to pursue a local ban. The students contacted professionals, such as the Department of Energy & Environment and the U.S. Geological Survey, as part of their research. The students then presented their case to Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein, who represents the school’s district.

Councilman Weinstein explained, “I first heard from the CLES students via email, with a compelling email asking to meet to discuss their idea to ban the sale and use of coal tar products in Howard County. Three of the 16 students in Mr. Pellegrino’s class came to my Council office to share their proposal and left me in awe of the thoroughness of their presentation and research. The quality of their briefing and the passion with which they delivered it was on par, if not better than a recent presentation by three PhD’s regarding an environmental issue before the County Council.”

Coal Tar Seminar teacher Eric Pellegrino and students met with Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein (pictured) over the summer to review drafted legislation on a coal-tar sealant ban.

Councilman Weinstein is planning to officially introduce the legislation on banning coal-tar sealants on Tuesday, September 4, with a public hearing on Monday, September 17 and a vote on Monday, October 1.

The school ultimately hopes to pass the coal-tar sealant ban at the state level, with rising fifth graders ready to continue the project this school year and with the support of the original students.

“I’m most impressed with the hard work and dedication of these students to make our environment a safer place for people and animals,” Pellegrino said. “This was a chance for the kids to practice real government skills, and we’ve been able to emphasize that making a difference in the world in a respectful and professional way is very important.”

Student Arianna Mandela said, “Now that we have met councilmen, lawyers and representatives from the county, and got to hear what they do for our community, I now understand that there is a lot of work and dedication that goes into maintaining Howard County.” Student Sophia Vecerek added, “The thing that most stood out is learning that we, even though we were still elementary kids, could make a difference that would change the whole community.”

To learn more about the students’ efforts, watch their presentation online.

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