Residents were urged Wednesday night to add their voices to a community group’s call for further soil testing near Town of Tonawanda homes where toxins were detected.
Members of the Tonawanda Community Fund had announced in late January that soil samples they collected in a residential neighborhood in the town’s industrial corridor revealed suspected carcinogens related to nearby industry. While those findings initially were announced during a news conference, Wednesday’s meeting in the Sheridan Parkside Community Center was for residents.
“We’re here tonight to give you some answers ... and direction,” said Jackie James Creedon, founder of the community fund.
Last November, members of the group collected seven soil samples from a playground and homes in the neighborhood – comprising Kaufman, James and Sawyer avenues – to compare with a background sample taken at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island. The testing was prompted by residents’ complaints about a “black gooey substance” falling from the sky and damaging their vehicles.
“We did not find any heavy metals that were elevated, but we did find PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons],” Creedon said. “If you live in Tonawanda, you know about the black soot – that’s PAHs.”
According to Andrew Baumgartner, a University at Buffalo student and community fund member, the group tried to mirror what the federal Environmental Protection Agency did in testing neighborhoods near Birmingham, Ala., where similar contamination was found. In both locations, nearby coal-burning industries are suspected sources of the contamination.
“Due to our small sampling size, our study is very limited,” Baumgartner said. The group paid $200 for each of the samples to be analyzed by an Amherst laboratory known for its environmental testing services.
“We just need more samples,” said Baumgartner. “We would be able to answer more questions if we had more data.”
Creedon said: “The question is: Do we have a public health risk? We’re not sure, but we’re building our case.”
The group is writing to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA with several requests. One is for more soil testing, as well as addressing the source of the “soot.”
Also, “We are asking them to make Tonawanda Coke install controls on their ‘pushing’ process,” Creedon said. She described that as when coal is pushed out of the ovens and said it produces a lot of the soot that residents see.
And the group wants the environmental agencies to meet with the community by June 1.
Tonawanda Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana said he’s written to the agencies. “However, I don’t think they listen as well to elected officials as they do to individual citizens,” he said.