Tonawanda Coke environmental impact study kicks off Friday with soil sampling

The event, which spotlights how citizens can help improve our understanding of air pollution, includes remarks from Rep. Brian Higgins, others

Release Date: August 4, 2017

Joe Gardella, Jr., SUNY Distinguished Professor standing outside.
“The soil samples will be tested using a state Department of Health-certified laboratory and cutting-edge soil-analysis techniques at UB and SUNY Fredonia to determine the impact that emissions from Tonawanda Coke have had on the surrounding environment. ”
Joseph Gardella, Jr. , SUNY Distinguished Professor and John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry
College of Arts and Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The investigation into how air pollution emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant may have affected nearby soil kicked into gear Friday with a gathering of elected officials, community organizers and scientists from the University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia.

The event — at the River Road Volunteer Fire Co. in Tonawanda — included students and citizen scientists taking the first of a planned 270 soil samples from sites in the town and city of Tonawanda, the village of Kenmore, Grand Island and the city of Buffalo that surround the plant.

“The situation surrounding Tonawanda Coke speaks to the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency and the critical difference residents can make in fighting for their community,” said Rep. Brian Higgins. “The soil study, a collaboration between various levels of government, the community, local businesses and the University at Buffalo, will provide further clues about the lasting impact of the company’s negligent actions and give us insight to make informed decisions moving forward.”

“The University at Buffalo — along with collaborators from SUNY Fredonia and Citizen Science Community Resources — will implement citizen-science-based soil sampling in the communities of the city and town of Tonwawanda, parts of Riverside, Black Rock and North Buffalo and parts of Grand Island. The soil samples will be tested using a state Department of Health-certified laboratory and cutting-edge soil-analysis techniques at UB and SUNY Fredonia to determine the impact that emissions from Tonawanda Coke have had on the surrounding environment,” said Joseph Gardella Jr., SUNY Distinguished Professor and John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry at UB, who is leading the study.

Jackie James-Creedon, executive director of Citizen Science Community Resources, credited community activists for prompting local authorities to examine Tonawanda Coke.

“If it wasn’t for a small group of people believing that they could make a difference, and actually getting off their couches, going outside and doing something about it, none of this would have happened,” James-Creedon said.

The $711,000 study — “Determining the Environmental Impact of Coke Oven Emissions Originating from Tonawanda Coke Corp. on Surrounding Residential Community” — is a collaboration between members of UB’s Department of Chemistry, SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Chemistry and CSCR.

The soil study, along with a separate $11.4 million effort also led by UB researchers, was ordered by a federal judge after Tonawanda Coke Corp. was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The health study aims to determine how Tonawanda Coke emissions may have affected the health of nearby residents and employees. Coke oven gas contains a number of toxic chemicals that are potentially hazardous to health, including benzene, a known carcinogen.

Statements regarding the Tonawanda Coke soil study

“As a native of the Town of Tonawanda, I am honored to be a part of this important, groundbreaking project, and I hope that we can help the residents get a clearer picture of what has been happening in their community,” said Michael Milligan, professor in SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Chemistry.

“The soil study being conducted is an important first step in assessing the potential longer-term impact of the Tonawanda Coke emissions on our community,” said state Sen. Chris Jacobs. “The results of this testing will be critical to determining if any additional clean-up will be necessary to protect the health and safety of our community, and I am glad this essential work is moving forward.”

“The Town of Tonawanda supports this soil sampling investigation and applauds the efforts of Citizen Science Community Resources and the residents of Tonawanda and Kenmore who will assist in this research. We are excited about the prospects for a cleaner environment in Tonawanda and a resident-led engagement with our partners at the University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia,” said Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger.

“I have supported Jackie's efforts for the last 11 years. The City of Tonawanda stands with CSCR, UB and SUNY Fredonia and supports the soil testing as a means to figure out what, if any, contamination has occurred because of the negligence of Tonawanda Coke,” said City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis.

“I encourage the community to stay involved in the process of the soil study. Positive action happens when people care,” said Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray.

“Citizen science — scientific research undertaken by members of the public — puts the tools of science into the hands of people who can use it to make a difference for the places they live in and care about. In some of the most powerful cases, such as here in Tonawanda, citizen science can be a tool for communities to create defensible knowledge and use it to combat injustice,” said Jennifer Lynn Shirk, interim director of the Citizen Science Association.


About the University at Buffalo: The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's nearly 30,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

About Citizen Science Community Resources: Citizen Science Community Resources is a grassroots organization in Western New York dedicated to science-based activism for winning environmental health and justice campaigns. Teaching others through our example, we empower people to investigate their air, soil, or water and use the power of scientific data to create healthier communities and a more just society. Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. We seek to educate, empower, and advocate.

About SUNY Fredonia: Founded in 1826, Fredonia is among the most storied in the State University of New York system. It is home to a world-renowned School of Music and over 100 degree programs in the liberal arts, natural and social sciences, education, mathematics and business. Fredonia also features cutting-edge programs in the emerging fields of technology, service and communication. Fredonia is known for its strong academic programs, attractive architecture and grounds, rich campus life and commitment to student engagement and success. Fredonia is focused on ensuring that all Fredonia students, utilizing knowledge developed through a broad range of intellectual experiences, will be: Skilled, Connected, Creative and Responsible global citizens and professionals.

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