Tonawanda News

February 28, 2012

Political pressure

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

— — Rep. Louise Slaughter is now among a growing coalition of local politicians who have contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation urging the agency to keep one of two air monitors from being removed from the Tonawandas as early as the fall.

As the DEC continues to mull the possibility as part of a statewide review of its 80 monitors, Slaughter joins City of Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi, state Sen. Mark Grisanti, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana in pressing the agency’s commissioner, Joseph Martens, to intercede in the decision despite a decrease in benzene levels in the region.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Buffalo Common Councilman Joe Golombek also have jumped in to oppose any removal.

Four monitors were placed in an area around the Tonawanda Coke plant, after it was discovered the company was releasing nearly 10 times the level of benzene it had reported in 2009. Two of those monitors were eventually removed.

Slaughter cited the positive effects that the monitoring has had on the local air quality, notably a drop in benzene levels by 86 percent, but warned against ending the monitoring prematurely.

“I call on the DEC to maintain the air monitoring operation in the Tonawanda industrial area as it is vitally important to the well being of the greater Tonawanda community and to the continued environmental progress of the region,” Slaughter wrote last week. “The DEC cannot claim victory yet. This operation must be maintained in order for the continued regulation of the major polluters.”

Rebecca Newberry, a program director for the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, said members have been pressuring local politicians to get on board with the organization’s efforts.

“We have a core group of members who have been going out to contact local legislators,” she said. “The concern is that we need to maintain the data from both monitors.”

Newberry had previously indicated that because of shifting winds both monitors are integral to oversight attempts. In addition to the coke plant, 52 other industrial sites exist within four square miles in the Tonawandas. The two remaining monitors are located on Grand Island Boulevard at Interstate 290 and the Brookside Terrace neighborhood.

The DEC has admitted that while benzene levels have dropped significantly during the last three years, levels are still high, though it could not be attributed to a single source.

As a result of out of control air pollution, Slaughter said, some neighborhoods in Tonawanda have a risk of developing cancer 100 times greater than that of the New York state guidelines.

The Clean Air Coalition will continue to apply pressure to keep the monitors in place until a final decision is made in March.

“We’re pleased to see that local leaders are supporting the community and seeing what value the air monitoring has,” Newberry said.