TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Sentencing day could come with prison time for Tonawanda Coke’s environmental control manager and millions of dollars in fines for the company for violating the Clean Air Act.
But that’s 16 days away. Monday night, residents came wanting answers concerning the cost years of pollution could have on their long-term health. Recent soil testing results found the highest readings a half-mile south of Tonawanda Coke, but officials can’t connect the dots to health effects quite yet.
Residents around the plant have been subjected to emissions the EPA says puts that population at a high risk of developing cancer and other diseases for years.
Thomas Ryan, who lives on Kaufman Street, said, “I’m dying because I can’t breathe because of that stuff. The things that they have done have destroyed my life.”
And now the soil around the plant is also a concern.
Jackie James Creedon of Citizen Science Community Resources said, “We believe that it could potentially be dangerous as well but we don’t know so that’s what we’re trying to find out.”
During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Creedon’s organization and researchers from University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia tested the soil for particulate organic material (POM), the same pollutant Tonawanda Coke was found in violation of the Clean Air Act.
“Knowledge is power and if you know you have contaminants in your soil you can avoid them,” Creedon said.
They tested a number of yards in Grand Island, City of Tonawanda, and the Town of Tonawanda.
The Kaufman/Saywer James Avenue neighborhood, which is a half-mile south of Tonawanda Coke, had four of the seven properties test above the EPA threshold for POM. But only 27 properties were tested – not enough to draw any conclusions.
Creedon said, “We’re not sure exactly where it came from. We do know that Tonawanda Coke, their emissions are associated with these chemicals, but there are other sources, too.”
Because of the limited number of properties tested, researchers stressed Monday night that these results are only preliminary. However, they hope the EPA will now get involved to conduct more in-depth and widespread studies.
Tonawanda resident Rose Hackett said, “I hope the Town of Tonawanda, Grand Island, we get the money to do further testings that are required.”
Any property owner who were to test the soil would have to make the results known to anyone who would purchase their home in the future. That’s something officials say may discourage some from taking part in the study.
Tonawanda Coke is expected to be sentenced later this month on March 19.