Scientists discuss next steps in Tonawanda Coke Soil Study

Gloved hands scooping soil into a glass jar.

A soil sample is taken in 2018. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

Moving forward, the study team will examine whether pollutants found in soil may have originated from the Tonawanda Coke plant

Release Date: January 16, 2019

BUFFALO, N.Y. — At a community meeting on Jan. 16, scientists provided the public with an update on a court-ordered study that investigates how pollution from the Tonawanda Coke Corp. plant may have impacted soil in Western New York.

The Tonawanda Coke Soil Study team shared information on three geographic areas of interest that researchers are investigating more closely based on findings from soil samples taken in 2017. Additional soil samples were taken from in and around these areas in 2018, as well as from schools, parks and churches.

Joseph Gardella Jr., PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB Department of Chemistry, who is leading the study, also discussed the study’s next steps, which include using advanced analytical and statistical techniques — a process called source apportionment — to investigate whether pollutants found in soil may have originated from the Tonawanda Coke plant.

A fact sheet describing the study’s progress and future plans is available at http://buffalo.edu/news/releases/2019/01/012.html. The fact sheet describes the three geographic areas of interest and includes a map showing these areas.

The meeting was held at the Tonawanda Middle/High School auditorium in the City of Tonawanda.

A federal judge ordered the Tonawanda Coke Corp. to fund the Tonawanda Coke Soil Study after the company was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Findings from the study will benefit residents in Grand Island, the City of Tonawanda, the Town of Tonawanda and North Buffalo by providing them with information about what chemicals are in their soil, how widespread any pollution may be, and whether these pollutants may have originated at the Tonawanda Coke plant. This knowledge is an important step in understanding whether a clean-up may be needed, and where.

“In an area where you have many polluters, we all want to be healthy and we all have questions about whether the environment is clean,” says Rich Mpelezos, a computer technician and resident of North Buffalo who is a member of the soil study’s community advisory committee. “If you’re talking about pollution from Tonawanda Coke, studying the air only provides a snapshot of what’s happening on a certain day. Looking at the soil gives you an idea of what the historical impact of the pollution has been. In the soil study, I’ve seen that this work is being done professionally — and with passion.”

The Tonawanda Coke Soil Study team includes researchers from UB and SUNY Fredonia — including Gardella, UB Research Assistant Professor of Chemistry Tammy Milillo, PhD, and SUNY Fredonia Professor of Chemistry Michael Milligan, PhD, all of whom are experts in environmental chemistry — as well as community partners.

A timeline showing the progress of the Tonawanda Coke Soil Study, from planning in 2016 to Phase 1 sampling in 2017, Phase 2 sampling in 2018, and source apportionment in 2019.

A timeline shows the progress of the Tonawanda Coke Soil Study. Credit: Bob Wilder / University at Buffalo

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