Tonawanda News — New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens will visit Tonawanda in March, according to the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, after the state Department of Health released a scathing report on Tuesday related to air quality in the town’s industrial corridor.
Martens informed the environmental advocacy group’s director, Erin Heaney, via e-mail on Wednesday that he will tour the town March 15.
“That’s welcome news,” Heaney said. “It’s important but it’s not enough. But we’re excited he’ll be coming and see the industrial area.”
The e-mail comes after the Department of Health released a study this week focused on Tonawanda’s air quality, which showed disturbingly high levels of birth defects and certain forms of cancer in residents living near its industrial corridor.
The study, which took more than three years to complete and was partly based off two DEC air monitors in the Tonawandas, reviewed residents’ exposure to the carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde in the air.
It found that, among those living in nearby neighborhoods, there were significantly high rates of lung, bladder, esophageal, uterine and oral cavity cancers, leukemia, as well a surge of health problems among newborn babies and mothers including heart defects and premature births. At least 332 cases of cancer were discovered in Sheridan Parkside — above the expected rate of 268.
Heaney indicated that the study confirmed what the organization already knew, while members of the group, many of whom are currently sick, feel a sense of relief after years pushing for the authorities to do more.
She also credited the members applying pressure to state and federal leaders, much as they did last year in urging the DEC to keep two air monitors in place near the industrial zone, when the state’s environmental overseer suggested one may be removed.