Tonawanda News — Erie County lawmakers this week called on the state and federal government to fund soil testing in the area surrounding convicted polluter Tonawanda Coke.
Legislator Kevin Hardwick, R-Tonawanda, sponsored a measure that passed the Erie County Legislature Thursday calling on the Environmental Protection agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation, to fund the studies in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the plant where residents complained for years of acrid-smelling smoke and ash floating down on their property.
Tonawanda Coke Corporation was recently found guilty of polluting the air by a federal jury and faces fines potentially numbering in the hundreds of millions at a sentencing hearing next month.
Hardwick called on the agencies to fund a soil study to determine the severity of the pollution caused by the company and other local industrial faculties.
“We know that the air around Tonawanda Coke has dangerous levels of pollutants and we know that residents’ health has been adversely affected by the facility’s emissions," Hardwick said. "What we don’t currently know is what affect have these pollutants had to the soil, what exactly is imbedded in the soil and how it is affecting residents who live there. A thorough study of the soil is necessary to not only obtain those answers but to implement a plan to remediate any affected areas."
Environmental activist Jackie James-Creedon was invited recently to the legislature's Energy and Environment Committee meeting to speak about the importance of testing the soil.
“People in our Tonawanda community have complained for years about black particulate matter in our houses, on our boats and in our backyards, James-Creedon said. "Tonawanda Coke was recently found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act including operating their plant without particulate control devices, called baffles, in place. We are calling on our government agencies, EPA and NYS DEC, to conduct a thorough soil investigation to determine the source, nature and extent of this potential public health threat."
Andrew Baumgartner, a University at Buffalo student, conducted a soil sampling with James-Creedon as part of a demonstration project to determine pollutant levels in some yards in the area. The study showed pollutant levels similar to those found by the EPA in Birmingham, Ala., in a neighborhood near another coke foundry.
The EPA funded the soil test in the Birmingham neighborhood and the resulting remediation, as well, James-Creedon said.