Students studying contaminated creek

NEWFANE, N.Y. (WIVB) – Dozens of students in Niagara County are determined to see what’s in the water of Eighteenmile Creek. They’ve started their own testing and analysis as part of a partnership with the county, General Motors and an organization called Earth Force.

The creek runs north from Lockport all the way to Olcott Harbor. In August, News 4 Investigates warned about a new state health alert issued for Eighteenmile Creek. It warns people to stay away , and not eat fish from the creek because of toxic contamination — especially in the soil and sediment in Lockport.

Read more || NYSDEC issues creek health alert

Recently, News 4 was there when enviromental science students from Newfane High School sampled the creek at Olcott Harbor and at Ide Road. “We just survey[ed] the water for things like PH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate and phosphate which can come from fertilizers,” teacher Rich Meyers said.

Meyers said he discussed the creek’s troubled past with the students. The creek is an EPA Superfund Site that’s listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List. “We talk about the corridor up in the Lockport area, where a lot of the contaminants came from,” Meyers explained.

The creek is a favorite for fishermen despite the danger. Locals, like the students, want it preserved and protected. “This marina, it’s very important. It brings hundreds of thousands of dollars to this community,” marina director Scott Scheffler explained. He said you’d be surprised, “There’s a lot of people from out of town that do eat the fish. Cleaned right. They’re not as bad as what people think,” he suggested.

News 4’s Jordan Williams couldn’t find a single sign warning people not to eat the fish. Leaders tell us they pass out fliers for anglers. That concerned students. “I don’t really know how well the word gets spread around that you’re not supposed to eat the fish,” Chrissy Schultz asked.

We spoke with Ryan Perrello who coordinates the Niagara County Soil and Conservation District. He says Newfane Dam and Burt Dam “…kind of act as sediment traps. It’s not as bad down here. It still is an area of concern, but the real pollution spot is up in Lockport with the sediment.”

The students’ samples show improving conditions here in the harbor. They’re still analyzing data. Initial findings suggest problems persist with Coliform and dissolved oxygen in the creek. Student tests did not test for the presence of PCBs or lead – which repeatedly show up in state and EPA data.

Students from Niagara-Orleans BOCES also tested water at 12 Mile Creek in the Wilson area. They suited up and climbed into the water, eager to learn more about what’s in the creek and how it’s impacting our health.

For some these tests are part of life-long passion for the evironment. “Since I was five, I’ve dreamed of being a wildlife conservationist, and I finally got into the class,” Francesca Hall said.

Genorah Givens from Earth Force is proud of the student testing program. “What we want is for them to take this information and not just hold onto it but go and do something with what they’ve learned.”

Until things are completely clear, these students and their teachers promise to keep watching the water in Niagara County.

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