Tonawanda Coke study nears start date

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TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Researchers are getting closer to testing soil as part of the Tonawanda Coke study.

Three years ago Tonawanda Coke Corporation was ordered to pay millions in fines after breaking the Clean Air Act. Now the company is required to fund work to help the community study and address its effects.

Some residents say the study is a long time coming.

“There’s a death in my immediate family that is maybe attributable to air pollution so I’m trying to follow these studies and see if there’s any connection to our own tragedy,” said Tom Burkman, Grand Island resident.

Over the next two years, researchers will be taking soil samples from areas surrounding the Tonawanda Coke plant. Experts say the results will show how much pollution entered the soil around the plant.

“I think the question people have is, OK, I lived near this place, it’s polluting, what’s left in my yard? Should I go out and garden, do I worry about my kids playing in the yard,” said Joseph Gardella, Buffalo State professor.

“We need the data to back up whether or not people like myself can rest easy or we need to change our outlook on things,” said Rick Davis, Mayor of City of Tonawanda.

Three-hundred samples will be collected from around the community and then researchers will determine the size of hot spots in those areas.

Researchers say the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been monitoring the air and pollutants have dropped significantly over the last year, but no one will know exactly what they’re breathing in until the study is completed.

“There’s no way to go back and fix the past, we can only go forward,” said Gardella.

To collect samples, a study team will go door to door asking people for permission to sample soil from the top two inches of their yard. Results will be reported to the owner first.

Researchers expect to start door knocking very soon with hopes of testing in the Spring.

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