BUFFALO NEWS: Community group seeks soil tests in Town of Tonawanda

Mark Grisanti


State and federal environmental agencies are being asked to test soil near homes in the Town of Tonawanda’s industrial corridor after samples collected by a community group revealed contaminants related to foundry coke oven emissions.

The likely source of a suspected carcinogen – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – found in samples taken last fall from a playground and yards on Sawyer, Kaufman and James avenues is the nearby Tonawanda Coke Corp., according to Jackie James Creedon, founder of the Tonawanda Community Fund. Though NRG Energy’s Huntley Plant also is a potential source, Creedon noted that NRG installed new air controls in 2010.

“I am calling on the DEC and the EPA to give this community answers,” Creedon said Tuesday morning during a news conference at the River Road Fire Company on Kaufman Avenue. “We need more samples taken, too.”

Several years ago, Creedon led another group in collecting air samples in the western part of the town. That work by the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York led to a DEC air study and a subsequent reduction of emissions of benzene – a known carcinogen – by local industry.

“Our community is breathing cleaner air now because residents took their own air samples,” Creedon said. She said she later realized “benzene was only the tip of the iceberg.”

The soil samples, collected in November, were tested in response to residents’ complaints about soot and a “black gooey substance” on vehicles and the landscape, Creedon said. Further, she had been in touch with people who live near Birmingham, Ala., where similar contamination was detected.

In the Town of Tonawanda, the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds – which are suspected of causing cancer in humans – exceeded those found in Alabama, Creedon said. In Alabama, the company suspected of the contamination paid to remove soil from the property of a new public school and residential properties surrounding it, according to local media reports.

Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana, who attended Tuesday’s news conference, said the Town Board will back Creedon’s efforts to get the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency involved.

Also offering support was Doug Curella, chief of staff for State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo.