UB moves forward with study on how Tonawanda Coke emissions affected public health


TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB)- Jackie James-Creedon has been fighting nearly 15 years to find out why she has fibromyalgia.

“I suspected that it had something to do with the environmental toxins in Tonawanda that I grew up with,” she said.

James-Creedon started doing air quality tests with other neighbors in 2003. In the following years, they would rally outside of Tonawanda Coke.

In 2013, a federal judge convicted Tonawanda Coke of violating the Clean Air Act. The company was ordered to fund an $11.4 million University at Buffalo study looking at how its emissions affected public health.

Tonawanda Coke appealed unsuccessfully. On Sept. 22, 2016 the money was finally released for the study to begin.

“There was a community that was sick, and people that were very ill,” said James-Creedon. “We wondered, why are people so ill? Why are people so sick? We’ll finally get that question answered.”

She plans to participate in the study.

It’s being led by UB associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, Dr. Matthew Bonner.

Dr. Bonner told News 4 they will start by giving a questionnaire to 38,000 residents in the City of Tonawanda, Town of Tonawanda and Grand Island.

“We don’t know how far those exposures could travel through the air, to be frank” said Dr. Bonner.

As the research progresses, they may ask people for urine, blood or saliva samples.

“It’s absolutely critical that residents within these communities participate, that’s going to be key to what we find,” he said.

Dr. Bonner told News 4 that, short term, they’re looking at whether emissions caused illnesses like COPD or heart disease. In the long term, they are investigating the connection to cancer.

They have funding for 10 years of research but Dr. Bonner hopes it will go beyond that.

“The ultimate goal is really to understand environmental exposures in human health so we can prevent environmentally caused disease in the future,” he said.

Tonawanda Coke also had to pay for a $700,000 air and soil study. Citizens Science Community Resources is working with UB to see how the company’s emissions affected the environment. James-Creedon is the director of CSCR.

”We really wanted the community to benefit from this,” said James-Creedon. “It started with the community. We felt those monies should benefit the community and community projects.”

A community health education center will be established where people can learn about and participate in the study.

“We can’t go back and we can’t take away people’s illness but we can move forward and help people and we can come together as a community,” said James-Creedon.

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