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Statement from DEC & DOH on air quality monitoring of Bethlehem Steel fire in Lackawanna

Submitted

Fri, Nov 11th 2016 09:50 pm

In response to the fire Wednesday at the former Bethlehem Steel site:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health emergency response personnel, New York State Office of Emergency Management and New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control worked along with local fire department and emergency responders to advise on round-the-clock air quality data for any public health impacts to public and the environment.

Latest air monitoring data reveal levels of particulates, an indicator of smoke, have returned to baseline levels and are now consistent with expected levels for this time of year at the Bethlehem site. As a result, the state worked with the Lackawanna mayor to lift the evacuation order and allow residents to return to their homes.

DEC and DOH will continue to monitor the air quality and provide the community with immediate information. 

Background

Residents are reminded smoke can contain many different chemicals that can cause airway and lung irritation and lead to an increase in symptoms associated with chronic lung or heart disease. People with breathing problems such as asthma, those with heart disease, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to particulate matter. The most common symptoms are irritation to the eyes, nose, airways and lungs. No increase in respiratory ailments has been found to date in the affected communities. 

State DOH went door to door to more than 300 homes to distribute fact sheets on fire-related contaminants. The state also reminds residents to take steps to limit exposure while the fires continue to burn and demolition work is taking place. To reduce exposures to smoke, residents, particularly those with underlying respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, and those on oxygen, in areas impacted by the smoke are advised to: Ensure windows and doors are closed; if ventilation systems are in use, set these to recirculate the indoor air and not draw in out door air; avoid or limit outdoor activities.

Air Monitoring Results

DEC set up two air monitors to the east and east northeast of the fire. The locations were selected based on forecast wind direction, and the monitors were within the residential neighborhoods on Electric Avenue and on Madison Avenue in Lackawanna.

The plume from the fire passed over the monitor on Madison Avenue in the afternoon and evening of Nov. 10. The plume moved easterly and impacted the monitor on Electric Avenue early on Friday. The particulate matter (PM) concentrations at times during these periods were in the hazardous air quality index (AQI) category. PM concentrations have decreased to normal levels at the monitored locations. DEC monitoring data show the PM levels declined over time, but that changes in the fire, as well as meteorological changes, shifted the impacted areas.

DEC also took samples for volatile organic compounds (VOC). The results of VOC sampling, which require much more extensive lab work, will be available next week. DEC and DOH will share results with the public as soon as they become available.

More information can be found regarding AQI categories on the EPA's website:

https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=pubs.aqguidepart

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