FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 14, 2009
SCHUMER DEMANDS TONAWANDA COKE PLANT CEO MEET WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO DISCUSS CONCRETE ACTIONS TO REDUCE BENZENE AND OTHER TOXIC EMISSIONS
Levels of Benzene Found in Tonawanda's Air as High as 75 Times the Amount Allowed in NYS, Posing a Real and Present Threat to Residents' Health
Schumer Demands Coke CEO Stop Stonewalling And Meet With Local Residents To Discuss pollution Problems and solutions
Schumer: Mr. Crane Says His Plant Causes No Harm To The Surrounding Community, So He Should Have No Problem Attending A Meeting
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer demanded owner and CEO of the Tonawanda Coke Corporation meet with community groups and listen – in person – to their complaints about the pollution coming from the Tonawanda facility and to explore potential solutions. In a letter to Schumer, Crane wrote that the type of allegations being made against the Tonawanda coke plant “cannot be sustained when viewed in the clear light of supportable facts, science and analysis,” and blamed the elevated benzene levels on automobile traffic.
Schumer today said that if Mr. Crane truly believes these statements – which have been disputed by community groups and regulatory authorities – he should come and meet with local residents and provide supporting evidence in person, and hear the stories of the residents. Schumer also said that Crane must respond to a study done by University of Buffalo Professor Joseph Gardella that showed that benzene levels were still greatly elevated even at night when car traffic was not a factor.
“The time has come for Mr. Crane to sit down with the community groups who have raised very serious concerns about Tonawanda Coke,” said Schumer. “I have long championed manufacturing in Western New York and I value Tonawanda Coke’s importance as an employer in the region, but Mr. Crane must now end his stonewalling and meet with community members, hear their stories, and produce whatever evidence he has to back his claims that his plant is not the cause of the elevated benzene and ammonia levels in Tonawanda. The source of the pollution must be identified and mitigated, and a more concerted effort must be made to prevent these toxic chemicals from making their way into our air to ensure the health and safety of residents and workers.”
A study funded by the EPA and DEC that took place between July 2007 and July 2008 revealed that benzene levels in many areas in and around the Town of Tonawanda are up to 75 times higher than New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommended guidelines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to benzene causes harmful effects on the body and immune system. Residents of the Town of Tonawanda and the surrounding areas have reported health problems due to exposure to the toxic emissions, which also includes elevated levels of ammonia. Serious diseases such as fibromyalgia and many types of cancer are occurring at irregularly high rates and residents are frequently experiencing headaches and increased asthma and allergies.
Schumer, in a letter written to Crane this summer, asked him to reduce the pollution being produced by the Tonawanda facility. Crane, in his response – the only one issued from Crane to any group on this matter – blamed the elevated benzene levels on auto traffic and dismissed the DEC’s Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study as a “bun with no burger.” Schumer today called on Crane to meet with concerned community groups – in person – and provide evidence for his claims, and discuss ways to improve the air quality in Tonawanda.
“Tonawanda residents don’t need glib retorts to their legitimate concerns regarding the potential health impacts from plant emissions,” Schumer said. “They need direct engagement with company leaders and a plan to reduce these emissions post-haste.”
Senator Schumer has in the past pushed for better, more in depth studies to measure the pollution and identify the sources of benzene in the Town of Tonawanda. Last July, when the high levels of benzene were first detected in the town, Senator Schumer requested that the EPA allocate funds to continue to monitor the dangerous toxins found in the area, a study that is underway and near completion. However, Schumer noted that the results of the July 2007-2008 study clearly indicate that there is a direct link between a resident’s close proximity to the Tonawanda Coke plant and his or her health.
A full copy of the letter is below
J. D. Crane
Owner and CEO
Tonawanda Coke Corporation
3875 River Rd
Tonawanda, NY 14150
Dear Mr. Crane,
I write today to request that you sit down with the community members who have raised very serious concerns about emissions from Tonawanda Coke. It is urgent that you meet with residents of the community, hear their stories, and present and discuss evidence you have to back the claims that the plant is not the cause of the elevated benzene levels in Tonawanda.
With recently completed scientific studies to bolster their claims, the community is understandably demanding that action be taken. They have one simple request: a meeting with you to discuss chemical emissions from your plant. Community members in the Town of Tonawanda have repeatedly requested a meeting with you, and have yet to receive a response. This is unacceptable. As a valued member of the Tonawanda community, you, as the leader of Tonawanda Coke, have a responsibility to meet with and discuss problems with other community members so these issues can be addressed and resolved.
In your response to my letter you stated that Tonawanda Coke is not the sole or primary source of excess benzene emissions. However, the facts presented by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) say otherwise. The year-long study completed by the DEC has indicated that the major source of high levels of benzene in the air is the Tonawanda Coke Corporation on River Road. Data collected through scientific surveying show that benzene levels in many areas in and around the Town of Tonawanda are up to 75 times higher than New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommended guidelines. Clearly, this figure is unacceptable. I find that your suggestion that the high benzene levels near the Tonawanda Coke plant are caused primarily by cars and trucks is not credible. Residents of the Town of Tonawanda and the surrounding area are experiencing numerous health problems potentially resulting from toxic benzene and other emissions from Tonawanda Coke. Serious diseases are occurring at irregularly high rates among Tonawanda residents.
The situation occurring at the other coke plant you operate in Pennsylvania, the Erie Coke Corporation, underscores the legitimate concerns and worries. That plant is currently being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania DEP. This action was taken after the Pennsylvania DEP found that smoke from the ovens at the Erie Coke plant exceeded federal pollution limits at least 31 times since May 7, 2008. In addition, Erie Coke Corporation was recently fined over $6 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for “flagrant disregard” of environmental laws.
Again, residents of the Town of Tonawanda and the surrounding area deserve to be heard and deserve action. in regard to benzene, ammonia and other dangerous emissions. I urge you to listen to your community and sit down with them to discuss how this situation can be rectified. I have long championed manufacturing in Western New York and I value Tonawanda Coke’s importance as an employer in the region, but it is clear that to protect public and worker health something must be done and those residents who are affected must be listened to. Thank you for your consideration of this important matter, and I look forward to your reply.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator