Environmental group looking for volunteers to dig up some dirt on Tonawanda Coke

Jul 26, 2019

Now that Tonawanda Coke has been shut down, local residents want to know about the possible toxins left behind.

Citizen Science Community Resources, one of several local environmental groups that actively worked to have the former manufacturing plant closed, is recruiting volunteers in two neighborhoods for a pilot study to help gather soil samples.

Citizen Science Founder Jackie James said the group received grant funding to study Eastern Grand Island, south the the Grand Island Bridge, and the neighborhood around Holmes Elementary School in the Town of Tonawanda.

"Tonawanda Coke just closed down in October of last year and all of last year, there was that billowing black, sooty smoke coming out of their smokestacks," James said. "So we're concerned, is that soot in our gardens? Is it in our play areas? And we're especially concerned about children. Their little bodies are so much more suspectible than adults."

A soil testing tool kit available for borrowing by anyone wanting to participate in the pilot study.
Credit Citizen Science Community Resources

James said the study does not want to replicate testing already conducted by the University at Buffalo, but the group "has been very vocal about transparency" regarding those results.

"We have asked them to share their data so we can see," she said. "We do know that they have not tested these high-exposure areas, in particular gardens," she said.

Citizen Science has soil testing tool kits that those taking part in the study, or anyone, can borrow and learn how to use according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency protocols. The group also has kits for purchase for long-term use.

James said the group is also working with Kenmore West High School to develop curriculum for students to learn soil testing of gardens.

"The idea is that we are going to take this curriculum and use it anywhere, because this problem does not only exist in our bubble of Tonawanda, this problem is a national problem, especially for urban gardens," James said. "In New York City, there is a huge problem with lead in their soil. Something like 75%-80% of the gardens tested in New York City are contaminated with lead."