Soil sampling could reveal Tonawanda Coke impact on community

Aug 4, 2017

The Tonawanda Coke environmental impact study kicked of Friday.  Community leaders, representatives of University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia, citizen scientists, residents and elected leaders gathered at a playground near Tonawanda Coke. Soil sampling is underway. 

College students begin taking soil samples from a playground near Tonawanda Coke.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

UB Professor Joe Gardella said this will be an ambitious study.  The soil samples will determine pollutants affected by emissions from the plant.

“The first goal is to really understand what pollutants have been built up in the soil as a result of the industrial pollution in this area,’ then to be able to advocate to the federal government and other resources to clean up those areas that we know are highly contaminated and dangerous to public health,” Gardella declared.  

Students and citizen scientists will be taking the first of a planned 300-soil samples from several sites. Soil will be tested in the town and city of Tonawanda, Kenmore, Grand Island and an area of Buffalo surrounding the plant.     

Ub's Joe Gardella.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We’re doing a comprehensive set of sampling that’s completely agnostic – we don’t’ have any pre-conceived notions of what we are looking for,” Gardella explained. 

Funding for the study is part of the larger $11.4 million dollar federal settlement that found Tonawanda Coke guilty of violating the Clean Air Act.

“Today marks the start of a new chapter in our history. We begin to investigate potential links industrial sources, such as the pollution coming from this company you see behind me, and how that potentially has impacted our environment and our residents’ health,” said Jackie James-Creedon, leader of Citizen Science Community leader and resident.

Resident Sue Mazur once lived neared the Tonawanda Coke facility in the 1980’s. She attributes emissions from the plant causing a mysterious autoimmune disease she suffers from.

“When you would blow your nose when you would cough – you would have all this black stuff come out,” Mazur described.

Soil samples will be taken six inches below. Gardella explained this will allow for examination of built-up contamination through the years.

“What’s the legacy that’s been left from air-pollution deposition,” Gardella stated.