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.
“I’m proud of what they did,” Heaney said of the members. “The study did incorporate our suggestions and it was based off the DEC’s monitoring.”
Many of the high levels of disease found during the study were in the vicinity of the industrial sector, where 57 businesses are squeezed into a two-square-mile area along the Niagara River.
“If you live in a neighborhood where there is a predominant wind direction you were affected,” Heaney said. “We know that people living in the Brookside-Terrace were part of that as opposed to parts of Kenmore. But what the study doesn’t talk about is all the people who have survived cancer.”
Martens’ office did not return calls Wednesday for comment on the precise nature of his visit.
“I think the commissioner is acknowledging there’s more work that needs to be done in the Town of Tonawanda,” Heaney added. “We’re hoping that he’ll be open to suggestions that we’ll have as to how to reduce emissions.”
The DOH will hold a presentation on the report on Feb. 28 at the Sheridan Parkside Community Center, 169 Sheridan Parkside Drive.
A public comment period is also open through March 31. Those who would like to give feedback on the study and its findings can contact the DOH at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling (518) 402-7950 or by mail at NYS DOH BEOE, Empire State Plaza, Corning Tower, Room 1203, Albany, N.Y., 12237.