UB Scientists share updates from Tonawanda Coke

Judge ordered Tonawanda Coke Corp. to fund soil study

WBEN Newsroom
November 21, 2019 - 8:45 pm
Soil Sampling

UB Photo


Tonawanda, NY (WBEN) - Scientists from the University Of Buffalo hosted a community meeting at Riverview Elementary School to update the public on the ongoing Tonawanda Coke Soil Study.

The purpose of the research, as ordered by a federal judge, is to investigate how pollution from the Tonawanda Coke plant may have impacted soil in nearby communities.

Hundreds of local residents, as well as the Grand Island Central School District and Tonawanda City School District, have participated by having soil sampled from their properties.

Scientists have completed maps modeling the estimated distributions of various pollutants at 6 inches below the surface of the ground. The maps, created using geographic modeling, are based on about 300 soil samples taken from homes, schools and other properties in 2017 and 2018.

It is important to note that soil contamination can vary significantly between properties and even within individual properties. As a result, homes, businesses and other properties located in contoured areas of the maps may have levels of contamination that are above or below the general estimated values indicated by the contours.

Jackie James Creedon of Citizen Science Community Resources told WBEN this week she is concerned about the validity of the data and has concerns that the soil samples were taken from six inches, as opposed to shallower samples.

“The maps are useful because they guide us in understanding what region of the study area may have been impacted by pollution,” Joseph Gardella Jr., PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, who is leading the study, said before the meeting. “If we have several soil samples in the same area with elevated levels of a pollutant, it creates a region on the map where there’s a higher probability of soil contamination. The maps are a way to better define the area where there may be a problem. In the past, we’ve seen too many examples of clean-ups that ended at property lines, when we know contamination can extend across property lines.

“The purpose of this study, in line with the judge’s order, is to understand the impact of the Tonawanda Coke plant’s emissions on soil. The maps highlight areas where some pollution was found, but we don’t know what fraction of that pollution is due to Tonawanda Coke, or the Huntley Plant or truck traffic or other things. We’re researching that problem now.”

“I lived in the shadow of Tonawanda Coke all my life, and I thought this was an important project that the community needs to be involved in,” says Anne Bazinet, a community advisory committee member and a resident of the Town of Tonawanda who had her soil sampled as part of the study. “It’s important to determine if any of the byproducts from Tonawanda Coke affected the community, if their particles landed on our yards, what they could have been, and what kind of potential clean-up there may need to be, if any.”

VIEW: Fact sheet describing the study’s progress is available 

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.

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