The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating a complaint of black smoke that could be seen rising Wednesday from the crematory at Amigone Funeral Home on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda.
An image of the smoke was captured by Town of Tonawanda Councilwoman Shannon Patch, and shared in social media by Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger.
1/3 TB member @Shannon_Patch noticed something that obviously wasn’t right earlier today. She sent me the pic below of what she saw at the Amigone Crematory. I immediately contacted the DEC who had had someone out to the site within a hours to investigate. Late this afternoon pic.twitter.com/GWbfK1guRR
— Joe Emminger (@joeemmingerr) September 9, 2020
The DEC was called in to check and, according to Emminger, they explained that Amigone staff had burned one large body followed by another, causing the chamber to overheat. Because of the excessively high temperature, the pollution control system was bypassed resulting in direct discharge out of the stack.
On Thursday, town officials and nearby residents gathered to say they've had enough. Emminger explained that the town does not have the regulatory authority to intervene, so they're turning to the state for action.
"To us, there's potential violations. There's that potential," he said. "That's where we have to put pressure on the state to do their job. That's really our role. The residents come to us, we in turn go to them and put pressure on them to make action happen."
The DEC on Thursday released this statement: "DEC takes the public’s concerns about air quality very seriously. DEC investigates complaints and assures compliance is met under all state air quality requirements to ensure the public’s health and the environment are fully protected. On Wednesday, DEC immediately responded to public reports of black smoke emanating from the Sheridan Park Crematory smokestack at Amigone Tonawanda Chapel at 2600 Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda. The smoke was reported at approximately noon and lasted for approximately one hour. DEC’s investigation into the cause of the smoke is ongoing. Additional information will be provided when it is available."
The crematory was shut down in 2012 and, in 2014, was blocked from reopening by Erie County. But a judge ruled in 2016 it could reopen. The funeral home met with state officials to ensure it would meet updated emission standards.
Neighbors complain, though, that they've been sunjected to exposure to foul odors and ashes they suspect are human remains. Ron Labuda lives near the funeral home and describes the smoke that was rising Wednesday.
"It was just horrible. Human flesh is not pleasant," he said. "Can you imagine it, smelling human flesh? And also, people driving down Sheridan Drive or anywhere have got somebody's relative on their car, or when you walk by. Think about that, that's what was coming out - remains."
Neighbor Bill Pilkington says the problem has been happening since 1992. He and his peers were asked whether they'd consider moving. They'd rather it be the funeral home that relocates.
"Why should I move? I've been living here since 1967," Pilkington said. "We considered moving before he was ever here, but we like the neighborhood. We like the Town of Tonawanda. But it's ridiculous to have to live with that complaint for that many years."