Tonawanda News — A proposal by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that would potentially reduce the number of air monitors in the state has raised a red flag with a local environmental group, the Clean Air Coalition, which is credited with uncovering egregious air quality violations at the Tonawanda Coke plant on River Road.
The statement, released this week by DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, indicated that a recent proposal would consider the removal of some of New York’s roughly 80 monitors in cases where there were also on-site industrial monitors.
“While these environmental monitoring services are an important management tool to ensure the protection of public health and the environment, environmental monitors do not replace DEC staff,” Martens said. “They are used where circumstances warrant an added level of oversight.
But Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition, said it was the installation of four air monitors in 2007 near the Tonawanda Coke plant that helped uncover the release of high benzene levels and other toxins into the surrounding area. The stunning revelation that benzene was found in levels 10 times higher than is considered safe came despite DEC employees conducting direct oversight of the plant for more than two decades.
The plant’s former environmental manager faces a lengthy prison sentence and the plant owner J.D. Crane may have to pay up to $200 million in fines during a March federal court sentencing, after the company was found guilty of widespread violations of the Clean Air Act.
Two air monitors still remain near the Grand Island Bridge as well as the Brookside Terrace neighborhood in Tonawanda, while 52 industrial sites in a 2-square-mile area continue to emit dangerously high levels of toxins into the air, Heaney said.
Heaney, who had not yet seen the report when interviewed by the Tonawanda News this week, said while the statement released by Martens doesn’t specifically mention a reductions in air monitors in the Buffalo area, including one near the Peace Bridge and another in the vicinity of the Galleria Mall, it does appear to clash with public interest.