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DEC: 'No public health concern' from shuttered Tonawanda Coke

Niagara Gazette - 12/17/2018

Dec. 17--There has been an immediate drop in the levels of a toxic air pollutant in neighborhoods around former Tonawanda Coke site, which shut down in October.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos released the DEC's analysis of air monitoring data this week for benzene and air samples collected by community residents.

Overall, DEC's assessment of the data found no chemical concentrations that would be of concern for short- and long-term exposures and no public health concern for either short- or long-term exposure.

"For too long, Tonawanda Coke has been a blight on this community, and its owners will be held accountable for any damage to this community and the environment. In response to concerns raised by local residents, DEC assessed neighborhood air quality by analyzing monitoring data and samples," Seggos said. "We found that air quality distinctly improved after the shutdown of Tonawanda Coke and that benzene, a toxic air pollutant, dropped precipitously. DEC and our partners at U.S. EPA are a constant, on-site presence at this site to ensure public safety and a comprehensive investigation of the site is being launched to identify any contamination at the site, and develop a cleanup plan through a transparent, public process that ensures community input at every step."

DEC has operated two monitors in the neighborhood since 2007. One monitor, located on Grand Island Boulevard, is 1,500 feet northeast of the facility and near interstates 190 and 290 and other industrial facilities.

The second monitor is located in a residential neighborhood on Brookside Terrace West, 8,000 feet northeast of the facility.

Earlier this year, in response to concerns about operations at Tonawanda Coke, DEC supplemented the Grand Island Boulevard toxics monitor with real-time benzene monitoring. Although benzene levels at Grand Island Boulevard were higher than recent years for much of 2018, the shutdown of Tonawanda Coke in October corresponded with an immediate drop in benzene at that location. In addition, samples taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the period leading up to the plant closure did not detect levels of significance.

In addition, DEC provided air sampling equipment to community residents engaged with DEC since the Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study, which DEC launched in 2007 to evaluate air quality in Tonawanda and emissions from Tonawanda Coke. In 2009, the study documented high levels of benzene released from Tonawanda Coke's operation, which can be an indicator of certain improper operations at the facility. As a result, DEC required the facility to make repairs and operational modifications to address the releases of this pollutant. The facility worked to reduce benzene concentrations after DEC's study and the area measurements for benzene had been reduced by 89 percent prior to the shutdown of the Tonawanda Coke Facility.

DEC and EPA are currently on-site to stabilize and comprehensively assess environmental conditions and investigate any contamination at the site. DEC will continue to provide information and regular updates to the public on the progress of the cleanup. At this time, due to legal restrictions, only authorized personnel designated for facility closure operations are permitted on the premises.

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(c)2018 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)

Visit the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) at www.niagara-gazette.com

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