DEC: No public health concerns for neighborhood since Tonawanda Coke shutdown

Dec 17, 2018

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released the findings of an air quality study Monday, suggesting that benzene levels in the air dropped sharply in neighborhoods near the Tonawanda Coke site after the plant closed in October.

The DEC says overall, their data finds no chemical concenteations "that would be of concern for short- and long-term exposures and no public health concern for either short- or long-term exposure."

Monitors were first put in place back in 2007, as part of the Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study, on Grand Island Boulevard and in the Brrokside Terrace West neighborhood. Tonawanda Coke faced the threat of having its air permits revoked earlier this year 

"It had been very spiky for a number of months. It's why we put this particular device there," said Steven Flint, Director of the Division of Air Resources for the DEC. "The facility was having problems with opacity and as we worked with the facility to try to get them to reduce it, we decided to put this particular device in place."

The results can be found by clicking here.

Jackie James-Creedon of Citizen Science Community Resources wasn't surprised by the finding but is satisfied that the largest source of benzene in the area has been eradicated.

"We gave this company a chance to clean up their act and it was apparent they couldn't do that," she said. "They couldn't be a good neighbor in our community and they were back to their old shenanigans over the summer. We stepped into action with our photographs, posting our complaints on social media and the DEC took notice."

Tonawanda Coke was convicted in 2013 of numerous federal environmental violations and earlier in 2018 faced the revocation of its air permits. A hearing had been scheduled in October but was canceled, as the company opted instead to close down. It had also been found guilty by a federal judge this year of violating its probation terms. 

Flint points out that not all benzene has been eliminated from the neighborhood. It's among the chemicals discharged in the exhaust of passing cars that travel along Route 190. According to the DEC report, the cancer risk in the vicinity of Tonawanda Coke was 75-in-one-million but decreased to seven-in-one-million by 2017. In its conclusion, it expects "the annual cancer risk estimate from benzene exposure to decrease further since Tonawanda Coke has shut down."

The DEC and federal Environmental Protection Agency remain on the former Tonawanda Coke site to continue an evaluation of contamination.