Recently the Clean Air Coalition of WNY organized a protest against the high-level toxic emissions from the J.D. Crane Coke Plant on River Road in Tonawanda, NY, drawing strong support from local residents and others, as well as considerable attention from the media. The protest was followed up by a phone call-in to the ECIDA in opposition to public subsidies they awarded to Tonawanda Coke whose air pollution is harming the health and well-being of local residents.
The awareness of the toxic air at Tonawanda Coke raised by the Clean Air Coalition on behalf of local residents has gotten the attention of the federal government.
Senator Schumer challenged the owner of Tonawanda Coke to meet with community groups and listen to their concerns about harmful benzene and other chemicals coming from the coke plant, as reported in The Buffalo News. The plant owner, J.D. Crane, has ignored repeated requests from local residents to meet and discuss the air pollution problems and possible solutions.
Lisa Jackson, head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gave assurance to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that concern about dangerously high emissions of the carcinogen benzene “is not an issue that will slip through the cracks.” “If the DEC [NY state Department of Environmental Conservation] does have findings, they have the full capability to do a significant enforcement action that would include significant fines,” Sen. Gillibrand said EPA head Jackson told her.
"The DEC has announced no action plan, which is frustrating to the residents of this community," said Erin Heaney of the Clean Air Coalition. Resident Jeani Thomson, who suffers from cancer, lupus, and constant headaches, says studies and remedies have been slow in coming. "If they keep going years and years and years, I'll be dead before that," said Thomson, as reported by WIVB TV News.
The DEC already has findings of emissions monitoring which took place between July 2007 and July 2008. Thomas Gentile, head of the DEC’s Air Toxics Section, indicated that the Tonawanda Coke plant on River Road has been the likely source of the irritations to the eyes, ears, noses and throats of nearby residents at a meeting with them on June 12, 2009. Benzene, a carcinogen, was found in concentrations that greatly exceed the State average, particularly at the Grand Island monitoring station, according to the June 13, 2009 report in The Buffalo News.
I obtained the map and data from the DEC website and learned that the elevated benzene concentrations were not monitored at Grand Island, as stated in the News article above, but rather at Grand Island Boulevard in Tonawanda, as seen in the DEC map of pollution monitoring sites, below, and as indicated in the benzene emission data below the map. Grand Island Boulevard (GIBl on the map) is immediately North East of J.D. Crane's Tonawanda Coke plant, the soot-blackened area in the center of the map.
Benzene emissions at Grand Island Boulevard were on average 75 times higher than than the NY DEC guidelines (blue-green horizontal line near 0.00 concentration; AGC =0.13). Chronic inhalation of benzene causes disorders in the blood, affecting bone marrow, damaging the immune system, causing anemia and increasing incidence of leukemia. In addition to being a carcinogen, benzene may irritate the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract according to the EPA. Benzene can also induce changes in the structure and function of chromosomes, and adverse effects on the fetus, including low birth weight, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage, have been observed where pregnant animals were exposed to benzene by inhalation.
Soot particulate emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant are yet another problem for local residents. Particle emissions are a leading cause of respiratory illness and premature death. EPA is concerned about small particles because those generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.