Study: Much of region around Tonawanda Coke is free of systemic contamination

Nov 22, 2019

While much of the geographic area around Tonawanda Coke has been found to be free of systematic contamination, there are still problems. The public received an update Thursday evening in the City of Tonawanda.

Joseph Gardella (center) and University at Buffalo students conduct soil testing.
Credit University at Buffalo

Study leader Joseph Gardella is a veteran of these neighborhood contamination studies, which usually reflecting past industrial production.

The distinguished professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo said a major goal of the federal court-mandated study is determining how much of the contamination across Grand Island, the City of Tonawanda and the Town of Tonawanda came from Tonawanda Coke and not other parts of the region's complicated industrial history.

"We have to finish this source apportionment and it's a lot of in-laboratory analysis and working together with Mike Milligan to put the data together and then this multi-variant statistical analysis work," Gardella said. "A lot of it is based on the dissertation of one of my former Ph.D. students who were part of the study early on."

The area of study.
Credit University at Buffalo

There were several questions during the meeting about the risks of gardening in the area near the former industrial coke plant.

"Where there's abandoned industrial sites, houses being torn down in parts of Buffalo, open lots, this is an established residential area. We wanted to be certain that we were going to evaluate the soil, following the judge's order," Gardella said.

He said most of the bad soil owners have been told, while others can garden because homeowners have changed the soil so much over the decades. He said not much is known about plants sucking chemicals from the ground, but old-line development and land maintenance makes surface soil clean.

It was a sparsely attended meeting Thursday evening.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

In a separate statement, the University at Buffalo released what it said were key takeaways from the meeting: strong community involvement, maps modeling the estimated distribution of pollution and next steps.

"The study’s next steps focus on understanding whether pollutants may have originated at Tonawanda Coke," the statement said. "With the maps complete, scientists at UB and SUNY Fredonia are moving forward with a process called source apportionment. This involves using advanced analytical and statistical techniques to study whether certain pollutants found in the soil, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and arsenic, may have come from the Tonawanda Coke plant."

WBFO has requested UB's maps modeling the distribution of pollution.