By David J. Hill
The Tonawanda News
TOWN OF TONAWANDA —
While the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York has scored some big gains to reduce pollutants emanating from Tonawanda Coke, members know there’s plenty more to be done to protect the community.
In recent months, the group has shifted its focus to go on the offensive against the bigger issue — the large number of industrial pollutants sprinkled throughout the Tonawandas, Grand Island and Buffalo.
“We’re going to deal with the cumulative impact of industry on our health,” Clean Air Coalition Executive Director Erin Heaney said after the group’s meeting Thursday.
“Despite a lot of progress at Tonawanda Coke, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There’s still odors in the community, and there’s still smoke,” she said. “None of that’s going to change overnight. We need a plan.”
Part of that plan was hashed out Thursday at the Sheridan Parkside Community Center, where CAC members plotted on a map what they believe are the worst sources of pollution in the area. “Hopefully tonight we’ll have a pretty powerful map that shows where the issues are,” Heaney said at the start of the meeting.
By the end of the night, members had placed dozens of stickers on a map highlighting industrial polluters along River Road, in addition to pollution coming from vehicles idling at the Grand Island toll barriers.
Members also identified compounds and chemicals they want to narrow the group’s efforts on. Among the chemicals polluting the community and deemed most threatening: benzene, methyl methacrylate, acetyldehyde and lead compounds.
The group’s efforts are part of a plan called TAPP, or Tonawanda Air Pilot Project, a project the group implemented recently to address the large number of polluters in the region.
The group started with nearly 80 ideas before deciding to narrow its focus on the cumulative effects of industrial polluters in the area, of which there are many, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Clean Air Coalition members have lobbied elected officials to gain support for the initiative, Heaney said, but the bulk of the effort is coming from the community.
“I was very impressed with the turnout tonight, a lot of new faces,” said Town of Tonawanda resident Jen Ratajczak, a Clean Air Coalition member. “That enthusiasm keeps us moving forward. We haven’t lost momentum. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
To learn how other communities have waged a battle against industrial pollution, the Clean Air Coalition will be meeting in April with an environmental group from Kentucky, Heaney said.
That group devised a successful campaign known as STAR, or the Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program, which helped tackle environmental issues in Louisville. “They’ve seen some really dramatic reductions,” Heaney said. Members of the group will share their experiences with the Clean Air Coalition on April 4.
According to the group’s website, STAR was formed in response to studies that showed that Louisville had unacceptably high levels of toxic chemicals in the air — the same kind of studies that led to the Clean Air Coalition’s formation more than a decade ago.