By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Environmental activist Jackie James-Creedon has been concerned about pollution from the Tonawanda Coke plant in the town for years.
And although she says the factory’s new emissions controls have been improving resident’s health and quality of life in the past few months, her mission has recently gained some extra gusto, and, unfortunately, validation.
Creedon, who founded the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, was recently contacted by a reporter, who’s Alabama TV station had funded soil testing around the two Birmingham Coke plants in the city.
“They found extreme levels of these dangerous chemicals in the soil, directly related to the coke plants,” Creedon said. “The EPA has come in and is remediating it. They are actually taking the soil out of peoples’ backyards.”
Creedon said Birmingham residents are extremely sick as a result.
“It’s the same kind of sickness you see in Tonawanda,” she said. “They possibly have more of a longer term effect, it’s in people’s gardens, the park.”
So despite the factory’s recent environmental advancements, Creedon is worried the chemicals found in Birmingham could be present in Tonawanda’s soil, too.
Nothing has been proven or linked directly to Tonawanda Coke, though given the area’s environmental history, she said testing should help answer that question and others.
“I believe there are other types of pollutants that are still posing a health risk for our community and that’s the reason why I’m doing the testing.”
Creedon hopes to begin the testing in November, but is still in the fundraising phase of the project and is hoping community members will donate money to fund the tests.
“$25, $10 — it will all help,” she said.
Each sample will cost $205 and will test for 16 poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and 8 heavy metals. The test materials will be sent to Test America located in Amherst.
After Creedon receives the results, she will inform the EPA and the Department of Health with the hope that they will follow up with more tests and additional emissions controls.
“It can be very dirty,” Creedon said. “Part of the process is pushing coal out of the ovens, and particulates just come out into the area. There are no controls on that process. Several other factories have a bag house that captures these particulates, but there is nothing like that at Tonawanda Coke.”
The Coke factories in Birmingham do have the preventive bags, according to Creedon.
Previous tests on factory property, conducted in 2008, revealed high levels of harmful benzo-a-pyrene, but no testing has been done to see if these chemicals are migrating into the residential neighborhoods.
Creedon’s testing this year will take place on Kaufman Avenue, James Avenue and Sawyer Avenue, residential streets at the intersection of Sheridan Drive and Kenmore Avenue.
The Clean Air Coalition is also continuing its efforts to improve Tonawanda Coke’s practices and are holding a rally at the Department of Environmental Conservation Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The organization will be holding a rally at the DEC on Tuesday to object to the extension of their operating permit.
“Since 2007 Tonawanda Coke has operated with an extended operating permit, which governs how much air pollution they emit, the records they keep and much more,” the organization’s flier for the event states.
But since the operating permit was put in place, Tonawanda Coke has gotten a lot of flak for the pollution the factory creates, and according to the Clean Air Coalition, their permit does not accurately reflect the new EPA regulations.
“We’re going to show we are still watching them,” Program Coordinator Rebecca Newberry said.To donate: Contact Jackie-James Creedon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.