The state Department of Health is seeking to monitor contamination levels of 100 residents in the Town of Tonawanda industrial corridor.
The proposed study would require a one-time urine test of residents to determine the levels of specific contaminants in their bodies, said department research scientist James Bowers, who said test results would remain confidential.
“At your request, we will send results to your private physician,” Bowers told the residents at a public meeting Wednesday night in the Sheridan Parkside Community Center.
“The results will be specific and limited. We would not be able to tell you where the contaminant came from. We won’t be able to tell you if that level will produce a health outcome,” he said.
The biomonitoring proposal caps a three-year air monitoring study by the Health Department and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The Tonawanda health study was launched in 2010 in response to community concerns about exposure to toxic emissions from area industries, including Tonawanda Coke Corp.
The final report was posted on the Department of Health website last month. Study results are available at http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/investigations/tonawanda/.
The study, in part, found that lung and bladder cancers were elevated among men and women in the study area. Esophageal cancer was elevated among men, and uterine cancer was elevated among women. It used New York State as a comparison and excluded New York City.
The report indicated preterm births were elevated in the study area when compared with the rest of the state. The levels of four carcinogens – benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and butadiene – decreased significantly, according to the three-year study of air quality by the state DEC that ended in late 2011.
Bowers noted the difference when explaining the biomonitoring proposal.
“We will be measuring in an environment that is significantly different from four years ago,” said Bowers. “But we have a long way to go before we could begin testing. Ideally, the study would be conducted in warmer months.”
Benzene, Bowers said, emanates from several sources in the environment. Its concentration in the body dissipates quickly.
“When you fill your car with gas, smoke cigarettes, sit in traffic or around a campfire you may be in contact with benzene,” said Bowers. “Benzene is eliminated from the body very quickly. In 72 hours, it will be gone. It does not stick around.”
Bowers hoped to form a lead group of 10 residents to help formulate testing parameters. He expected to take individual air samples along with the urine samples.
The turnout Wednesday in the Sheridan Parkside Community Center – about 25 residents – was small compared with past meetings that addressed the toxic emission issue. One audience member expressed her approval for the proposed biomonitoring study.
“We’ve been interested in having this done for a while,” said the Tonawanda resident. “We deserve answers. This will at least give us a small glimpse of what is going on.”
Another public meeting was held Thursday night in St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church on Grand Island.