Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA – New York State Department of Health official James Bowers detailed the agency’s proposal at a presentation Wednesday night to conduct a biomonitoring study that would test 100 residents’ urine for benzene and other chemicals.
The recommendation comes after a nearly three year DOH study found elevated rates of cancer and “statistically significant elevations” of lung cancer and bladder cancer in both males and females, esophageal cancer in males and uterine cancer in females, as well as oral-cavity/pharynx cancer in males and leukemia among women.
The DOH also found evidence of elevated preterm births and heart defects in newborns, but evidence of elevated major defects was, fortunately, not discovered.
Last month, the state agency published the study’s final report on the area, which covered the town, the City of Tonawanda and Buffalo. The document included resident comments and the recommendation to complete the urine testing.
Bowers acknowledged the many limitations that the study would have.
“We won’t know where the benzene came from ... it could be from Tonawanda Coke, it could be from smoking and it could be because you pumped gas this morning,” he said.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the other chemical that would be tested, could come from diet, smoking, auto emissions and wood fires, he said.
Levels of benzene in the air have also been dramatically reduced over the past decade, but the chemical only stays in the body for about 72 hours, making it impossible to assess how much benzene residents had in their systems four or five years ago.
The Clean Air Coalition sent a letter to DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah this week that expressed concern that the study is too narrowly focused on coke oven gas emissions and benzene.
“The community is, however, concerned about the high levels of many different air pollutants from the over 53 industrial plants in the neighborhood,” the letter reads.