Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, D-NY, 28th District, this week applauded the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for agreeing to continue monitoring air quality in the neighborhoods surrounding Tonawanda Coke. The DEC announced that two air monitors in Tonawanda will remain in operation through 2012 and 2013.
"The air monitoring being done by the DEC has been invaluable to the residents living near Tonawanda Coke. I believe that it is because of the monitoring they're doing, and the incredible community involvement by the Clean Air Coalition, that has forced a change in Tonawanda Coke for the better," said Slaughter. "But we know that it would be all too easy to change course so I applaud the DEC for the work they have done and the monitoring they've pledged to do today. Thanks to their DEC's continued air monitoring, Tonawanda residents will be able to breathe easier."
Slaughter represents Grand Island in the House of Representatives. Last week she urged the DEC to maintain the air monitoring operation in the Tonawanda industrial area and penned a letter to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, saying their presence is "vitally important to the well being of the greater Tonawanda community and to the continued environmental progress of the region."
According to Slaughter, millions of pounds of toxins are released from 53 facilities and two major highways in Tonawanda. Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition, said Grand Island is "right across the river from the highest concentration of air polluters in New York state."
"I have spoken with many GI residents who complain of strong odors and diminished quality of life due to the high levels of air pollution," Heaney said.
Slaughter cited the positive effects that the monitoring has had on the local air quality, notably a drop in benzene levels by 86 percent, but cautioned against ending the monitoring prematurely.
A 2009 recent report found dangerous levels of benzene in the sky above Tonawanda. Benzene is a dangerous carcinogen. As a result of out of control air pollution, some neighborhoods in Tonawanda have a risk of developing cancer 100 times greater than that of the New York state guideline.
Slaughter has been a long-time partner of the Clean Air Coalition. In March 2011, Slaughter applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for awarding a $10,000 grant to Clean Air Coalition of Western New York to address the risks from multiple sources of toxic pollution in their environment.
A month earlier, Slaughter submitted a statement to the Congressional Record making the case for the Clean Air Act citing the important work yet to come to improve air quality in Tonawanda and across the country. She said in part,
"During my time serving the 28th District of New York, I have received multiple letters from the people of Tonawanda telling me about how their family and loved ones have developed cancer, asthma and other illnesses due to the extremely poor air quality in their community. Today, I would like to share the story of Ann, a woman who has lived in Tonawanda for 16 years. Ann's mother and father moved to the city to fulfill the American dream of owning their own home. Ann's mother cultivated her own garden in her yard, spending her free time outside gardening and breathing in what she thought was fresh, New York air. Sadly, Ann lost her mother to cancer at the young age of 67, just nine years after moving to Tonawanda and breathing the dirty air. Ann can't help to think that if only her family knew what toxic, cancerous chemicals the local facilities were pumping into the air, they could have protected the health of their loved ones. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of upholding the Clean Air Act and supporting the Environmental Protection Act in doing its work to protect the American people against dangerous corporate polluters."
And in 2009, Slaughter wrote to then-DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis asking that the DEC develop a benzene reduction plan as soon as possible to significantly reduce benzene emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, located across the East Niagara River from Ferry Village.