Tonawanda News — A slew of local, state and federal politicians met in the shadow of the Tonawanda Coke plant on Friday to send an urgent message to the thousands of residents who may have been affected by decades of exposure to pollutants from the business: Make your voices heard.
The reminder was related to two looming deadlines to submit impact statements to U.S. Federal Court Judge William M. Skretny, who is set to determine who will receive up to $220 million in fines related to the plant’s violations of the Clean Air Act over many years.
Jackie James-Creedon led the grassroots charge toward bringing the plant’s illegalities to light and founded the Clean Air Coalition credited with organizing hundreds of neighborhood residents who pushed for a remedy to high levels of benzene released into surrounding homes and businesses. She said getting people to submit their stories to federal authorities could go a long way toward the healing process — both as a community hamstrung by the quality of its air and water and for the future potential to make their lives healthier.
“A few years ago a few of my neighbors and I became citizen scientists and collected an air sample not far from here because our air stunk and we considered if this was why so many of us were sick,” she said. “We can’t turn back the hands of time and change what has already been done, but we will persevere together and make our community a better place to live, work and play.”
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins said it was through the efforts of those who live near the plant, in the Tonawandas and on Grand Island, that a conviction was ultimately handed down against plant manager Mark Kamholz and the company itself. And it is the activists themselves and those who have yet to speak out who may be able determine their own future.