UPDATE: Local doctor talks risks of prolong exposure to smoke

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LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB)- Three days after a massive fire broke out at the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, fire crews remain on scene.

Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield told News 4 Friday that the fire was under control, but not completely out; hot spots remain an issue throughout the structure.

Route 5 in Lackawanna will remain closed until further notice.

Friday afternoon Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski lifted an evacuation order for the neighborhood next to the plant, Bethlehem Park.

According to EPA readings from early Friday morning, particulate levels in the air were zero.

Initially, readings showed a spike in particulates as wind shifted Wednesday and Thursday, causing a thick haze to blanket dozens of homes in the area.

Dr. Heather Lehman is a practicing physician at UBMD Pediatrics and also a Clinical Associate Professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Dr. Lehman said residents in Lackawanna should remain cautious, even while returning to their homes.

“The effects of this can be irritant in the airway but it can also be inflammatory in the airway, and there are going to be levels of these different particles that can exacerbate breathing issues for even people without underlying issues,” Dr. Lehman said.

“We know there are people with underlying airway disease or heart disease that are going to have much more significant effects with this,” she continued.

As a partial demolition of the Bethlehem Steel plant began, asbestos became another concern. Commissioner Whitfield said the crews involved in demolition are certified in asbestos mitigation.

“We are differing to them, they are the experts in that area,” he said.

Fire investigators won’t know everything that was burning until crews are able to get full access to the building. So far, Whitfield said they’ve only been allowed partial access due to the fact that plant is still on fire.

Dr. Lehman said those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or COPD should watch their symptoms especially close.

“I think they’ll know a lot more as they know what chemicals are actually being released into the air but what we do know as far as the inflammatory particles that we know are there, those people will asthma could see the effects in the upcoming weeks,” she said.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • increased cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing,
  • Feeling light headed,
  • Increased headaches

Red Cross Volunteer Dennis Scott organized one of the city’s shelters, at Lackawanna High School. Many of the evacuees were children, and keeping their spirits up was also part of the job.

“They opened the auditorium up, had the big screen set up to where they could watch movies. And it became a big playground for the ones that are here,” Scott said.

“We go around to every individual and always greet and talk to them to see where their mind set is to be able to bring them to a place to where okay, this is not home but it’s the best thing I’ve got right now,” he told News 4.

Lackawanna remains under a State of Emergency until further notice.

Route 5 could reopen this weekend, but Mayor Szymanski told us he isn’t sure when.

Demolition crews halted work Friday evening due to the darkness and risk of falling debris; they’ll resume efforts Saturday morning.

 

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