Q: I live next door to a church, and they’re going to redo their parking lot this summer. They were very nice to send a notice around to the community. But I’ve read that some pavement sealants are very toxic. What are the dangers, and what should I talk to them about? -- Greta G., Minneapolis
A: All pavement sealants are toxic and mutagenic, meaning that they increase the risk of birth defects and cancer, but coal-tar sealants are the worst. They’re also the cheapest. Fortunately, your state (Minnesota) has banned coal-tar sealants, so we don’t believe you have that much to worry about. Chances are good that the church next door will use an asphalt sealant; it’s the next cheapest. There are other, less-toxic choices.
But the bigger issue you’ve raised is about the continued use of coal-tar sealants. They’re far more toxic than previously thought, and still are widely used, particularly in the eastern half of the country. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, coal-tar-based pavement sealants are a very potent source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and those are the carcinogenic hydrocarbons everyone is concerned about. According to a paper recently released by Oregon State University, PAHs are toxic to birds, fish, amphibians, plants and mammals, which, of course, includes humans. Recent tests on zebrafish have shown that these hydrocarbons cause developmental damage to embryos.
Many communities around the U.S. -- such as Austin, Texas; Prince George’s County, Maryland; and the federal district of Washington, D.C. -- have banned or restricted the use of coal tars. Lowes and Home Depot have halted retail sale of their coal-tar driveway sealants. The word is getting out, but there isn’t yet a total ban.
So, if you have family and relatives around the country, make sure they’re aware of the dangers that coal-tar-based sealants pose to their health and the environment. If you want to learn more, a good source of information is www.coaltarfreeamerica.blogspot.com.
Q: People are always saying how great walking is for you, but that seems kind of exaggerated. Is it really? -- Katy G., Grand Rapids, Michigan
A: We’re so committed to helping everyone get in 10,000 steps a day that we sometimes forget to explain exactly what a regular walking routine (you start off with 30 minutes a day and build up to 10,000 steps) does for the body. So here’s why walking is such a powerful way to reclaim or maintain your health!
--Repetitive muscle contraction coupled with increased respiration helps your body process blood glucose, and it reduces inflammation, insulin resistance and your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
--The increased respiration and blood flow helps protect your cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure and helping keep arteries flexible. That keeps your brainpower and memory-processing centers in top shape.
--In addition, steady but gentle movement helps protect joints and bones, builds strength and improves balance, boosts feel-good brain hormones and improves sleep.
Other benefits? A new study released at the National Hispanic Medical Association annual meeting found that walking 30 minutes five days a week helped new moms (more than half of whom were overweight or obese before getting pregnant) lose their pregnancy weight, and even more, in 12 to 24 weeks. And a JAMA Internal Medicine study found that for young adults -- the group in the U.S. gaining weight the fastest (one to two pounds a year) -- small, self-regulated changes in behavior (like walking for 30 extra minutes daily) can cut in half their risk of becoming obese. And once walking becomes a regular activity, you’ll retrain your brain to reward you with increased happiness and sharper thinking.
So grab a pedometer and a buddy, and head out today! Dr. Mike’s Wellness Center just completed a “Support Your Buddy” Walking Contest; folks who participated reported that walking with a buddy makes all the difference in keeping the daily routine going and having fun!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at email@example.com.