Lackawanna residents say questions remain after public meeting

lackawanna-fire

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB)- Fears and frustrations were clear in Lackawanna on Monday night. State, county and local officials held a public meeting with residents nearly two weeks after a massive fire broke out at the old Bethlehem Steel plant.

“We’re victims, we’re innocent victims in all of this,” said Andrea Haxton, a former city council member and resident.

The meeting was held an hour and a half after the state of emergency was lifted in Lackawanna.

More than a hundred people packed into the Lackawanna Senior Center to find out if the air they breathe is safe and if they’ll have long term health problems.

“We want the nitty gritty of what was in there, what was burning,” said Haxton. “What exactly was in that black smoke?”

The DEC explained it tested for fine particulate matter, or air pollutants, in two different areas. The tests show on the day after the fire, there was hazardous air quality but it’s now back to normal.

The DEC also tested for Volatile Organic Compounds, including benzene, at four locations near the fire.

The results showed elevated levels of benzene and a number of other chemicals on the day after the fire but once the fire was out, those levels were significantly reduced.

Many people living in Lackawanna expressed concern the tests weren’t performed in the areas most affected by the fire.

“I am not happy with how the sampling was done and the reason is because I think they need to focus on the areas that were more saturated,” said Amy Calaroni, a Bethlehem Park resident. “I don’t want to go back to the neighborhood because I’m afraid of developing some disease down the road.”

The State Department of Health said the DEC and EPA had monitors all the way around the steel plant.

Dr. Gregory Young, NYS Dept. of Health Associate Commissioner for the Western New York Region, said people who are experiencing symptoms like a headache, or tingly feeling, shouldn’t worry about long term health problems. He told the crowd those are acute symptoms from short term exposure.

“Based on one industrial fire, you’re not going to see a spike in cancer, that’s not going to happen,” said Dr. Young.

He also told residents not to be concerned if they still smell a bad odor.

“Our sense of smell will detect particles far below a level that would create a health risk so the fact they can smell it doesn’t mean they’re still at risk,” said Dr. Young.

He said if anyone still feels sick in their home, they should seek shelter with a family member or friend until the home can be completely cleaned. Dr. Young told News 4 that residents need to clean their homes top to bottom with soap and water, change any furnace filters and have carpets professionally cleaned.

Those living near the plant told News 4 they are still concerned and want the air tested inside of their homes. They are also calling for soil and water tests.

“I think they need to do more testing and it would be lovely if somebody out there would reach out to us if they are willing to provide indoor health sampling,” said Calaroni.

Haxton said, “There are still so many questions that need answers to.”

Officials assured residents there will be more public meetings to address their concerns.

The EPA still has not released its air quality data and News 4 learned the EPA’s chemical analysis could take a couple of weeks. The State Department of Health said the EPA will conduct soil tests.

Take a look at the DEC’s presentation here.

Take a look at DEC air quality test results here.

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