Tonawanda News

July 31, 2013

Activist and students conduct soil testing in city

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Local students are partnering with local environmental crusader Jackie James-Creedon this summer to complete further soil testing in yards near Tonawanda Coke, the plant that residents and activists have blamed for high rates of cancer and other illnesses. 

“We are trying to keep the issue current and push for funding for a more comprehensive study,” James-Creedon said. 

Students from Kenmore West, Kenmore East and the University at Buffalo were on site Tuesday at a Brookside Terrace West home in the City of Tonawanda collecting samples, which will be tested for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dangerous chemicals that have been proved to cause cancer. 

The home is an appropriate location for testing because it is located near a state Department of Environmental Conservation air monitoring device, and is a stone’s throw away from the notorious River Road plant. The facility, along with its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, face more than $200 million in fines and 75 years in prison when Judge William Skretny sentences them Sept. 30 for violating two federal environmental laws. 

The round of sampling comes after James-Creedon and her group, the Tonawanda Community Fund, completed another soil study in January near the plant on Town of Tonawanda streets. The results were worrying, as the levels of benzo(a)pyrene — a known carcinogen — in the soil were, on average, higher than than the control samples.

The fund initiated the project after a reporter from an Alabama TV station told James-Creedon about soil testing that had been completed in north Birmingham where two foundry coke plants operate.

The results from Birmingham indicated high levels of benzo(a)pyrene, which is formed when burning coal, oil, gas and tobacco. 

The Environmental Protection Agency is completing remediation work in Birmingham yards that that have 1.5 parts per million of benzo(a)pyrene or greater. In Tonawanda, three out of the seven yards that were tested met that criteria. 

Former City of Tonawanda Police Chief John Ivancic, the Brookside Terrace resident whose yard was being tested Tuesday, said he hopes this round of tests doesn’t have similar results. 

“I’ve always been a bit of a naysayer about this kind of thing,” Ivancic, who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in February, said. “But I have no history of cancer in my family ... where is it coming from? No one can say. It kind of makes you wonder.” 

Ivancic also noted his neighbors’ cancer diagnoses, and said a black substance from the plant is constantly dirtying his home’s roof and windowsills. Many residents around the plant have reported the same circumstances. 

“This area is considered high impact,” James-Creedon said, noting the state Department of Health study that found statistically significant elevations of cancer rates in the neighborhood. 

The two groups of students working with the fund this summer are also completing tests near Dunlop and DuPont, James-Creedon said. The students said they were enjoying the research and the chance to learn more about the town’s industrial sector.

“Any field work is fun to me,” Rob Bennett, a student majoring in chemistry at the University at Buffalo said.

James-Creedon also said she is working with the university and SUNY Fredonia to propose a more comprehensive air and soil study. UB would head the study, and the three parties will be sending in the proposal to Skretny, who could allocate some of the plant’s sentencing fines to local projects. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley