Enrollment begins for study on public health impacts of Tonawanda Coke emissions and other pollutants

The research will examine the health of the communities near the plant

Release Date: June 28, 2018

“The goal is to understand how airborne pollutants, including emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, have affected public health in surrounding communities.”
Matthew Bonner, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — How has air pollution affected the health of communities in Grand Island, the City of Tonawanda and Town of Tonawanda?

Residents and workers in these areas are invited to enroll in a long-term study that addresses these and other important questions.

To sign up, visit https://ehstudy.buffalo.edu.

The research — the Environmental Health Study for Western New York — is led by the University at Buffalo. Tonawanda Coke Corp. was ordered to fund the $11.4 million project after the company was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Anyone over the age of 18 who currently lives or works in Grand Island, the City of Tonawanda and Town of Tonawanda can participate in the health study, as well as anyone who lived or worked in these communities in the past. Children and teenagers under the age of 18 will be invited to take part at a later date.

Participants will receive $10 for filling out a survey about their health history and lifestyle habits. Later, many will also be asked to complete short follow-up questionnaires and to donate urine and blood samples, which can provide useful information relating to an individual’s exposure to chemicals and relative risk for developing disease.

Community members with questions about enrollment can contact Denise Feda, PhD, project manager for the study, at sphhp-ehstudy@buffalo.edu or 716-829-5607.

Enrollment has begun, with eligible participants invited to sign up now online at https://ehstudy.buffalo.edu/, and invitations to participate mailed to thousands of area residents.

Understanding community health, and communities’ history of exposure

The study will track the health of area residents and workers over 10 years or more, while also taking their health history into account. The objective is to understand how emissions from various sources, including the Tonawanda Coke plant, may have affected — and may continue to affect — the health of communities near the plant.

Researchers will use scientifically established approaches to understand the types of health problems community members are experiencing, and how these conditions may be linked to exposure to chemicals found in coke oven emissions, such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

“The goal is to understand how airborne pollutants, including emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, have affected public health in surrounding communities,” said Matthew Bonner, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Chemicals in coke oven emissions are also found in traffic fumes, cigarette smoke and other sources, so we will examine all of these factors to better understand the link between these pollutants and public health — including how coke oven emissions may have affected the health of workers and residents.”

Insights from research could ultimately inform future decision-making

The research aims to empower the local communities by helping people of the City of Tonawanda, the Town of Tonawanda and Grand Island gain important new knowledge about their collective health.

The study will give residents an increased understanding of how prevalent various diseases are in their communities, and how these diseases may be linked to pollutants. The research will also shed light on how lifestyle factors like diet and exercise may help to lower the risk of environmentally associated disease.

Such information can inform decision-making, helping residents and community leaders decide how to focus public health policies, as well as community-driven initiatives aimed at improving community health through education, awareness and clinical care. In the future, insights from the study could help to prevent disease in these and other communities.

Community advisory committees consisting of residents and community leaders will help inform the project, and a scientific advisory committee consisting of national experts with experience in epidemiology and environmental health will provide guidance on scientific matters, including the study methodologies to be used.

The study will also support educational efforts and community-driven initiatives to improve health.

For more information on the study, visit https://www.buffalo.edu/news/key-issues/environmental-health-study-for-western-new-york.html.  

To enroll, visit https://ehstudy.buffalo.edu.

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