Chandler street blaze stirs concerns about air testing

Buffalo, NY – A four-alarm blaze at a lubricant manufacturing plant in Buffalo is raising concerns that officials are not prepared to deal with the aftermath of a potentially toxic event.

About 100 fire fighters and emergency responders were on hand to deal with last week's massive fire on Chandler Street that sent billowing black smoke into the air.

Federal and state re-enforcements also were called in to help with the aftermath. And yet, it appears, the first air samples taken at the site were not done by the City or one of these agencies, but by a local environmental advocacy group, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

"It's unfortunate that it takes citizen monitoring to be able to monitor the air. We need our government to be able to respond to protect public health," said Erin Heaney, Executive Director with the Clean Air Coalition of WNY.

As of Friday, Fire Commissioner Garnel Whitfield said he was unsure if the EPA had taken air samples to identify possible contaminants that could pose a danger to residents. Heaney said there are a number of institutions that should have been able to provide answers.

"Every community has to have an LAPC [local air pollution control], which is supposed to keep track of the chemicals that are stored in facilities, especially in residential neighborhoods," said Heaney. "Educate the public, make sure that there is a clear plan of action if there is an accident, and it's clear that wasn't in place."

But Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield disagreed. He said they were prepared.

"I'm not sure that there was any confusion what-so-ever. We did what we were supposed to do as responders to that scene, all the other agencies are here," said Whitfield. "This is kind of how it goes when you have an eent of this magnitude."

Still, Buffalo Common Council member Joe Golombek said he too has some concerns about the protocol for such an event.

"I want to find out exactly what the EPA did while they were there. Once I find out I'll have an informed opinion on it. But I do want to make sure that the residents and the firefighters who were there are all safe, short term and long term," said Golombek.

Golombek said, if not satisfied, he would push for changes in how the City responds to a potential toxic event. The Coalition's air sample results are expected sometime this week.