By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Elected leaders and citizen activists who fought and won in court against polluter Tonawanda Coke criticized the researchers who are conducting a soil study mandated as part of the company’s court sentence.
During a meeting on the soil study at Tonawanda High School Wednesday, Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joe Emminger argued with Dr. Joseph Gardella Jr. of the University at Buffalo Research Foundation that is conducting the study of communities in the vicinity of Tonawanda Coke. Emminger, Town of Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray, and City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis issued a joint letter asking for a third-party review of the soil testing results. Saying the current study by UB is “a continuation, to some degree, of a soil testing project our community members started several years ago,” the letter said “Our residents are concerned with the possible devaluation of some property values based on the findings, and our offices want to be prepared to answer questions and concerns. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we all work together ... to understand the extent of any potential issues, as well as to strategize ideas and solutions on how to mitigate a potential cleanup. We feel it is critical that this occur before any information is shared with the press or community at large.”
“Furthermore, we are reserving our decision whether or not to participate in the study based upon a completion of an independent and certified technical review of the soil sampling and analysis plan, as well as a review of the soil testing results,” the letter said. “We assert that a third-party technical review should be conducted by an independent – and mutual agreed upon – qualified agency or person.”
Citizen Science Community Resources issued a statement that supported the elected leaders and said that one concern is “that the soil study does not conform to the original intent ordered by Judge (William) Skretny.” Skretny presided over the trial in which Tonawanda Coke was found guilty of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act. He ordered a soil study as part of the sentence.
“The truth is, our voices have been stifled and pushed out of the process; a project that the community started, wrote and persisted with for 15 years,” Citizen Science wrote.
“Additionally, we started this project because folks wanted to find out if they can eat vegetables in their garden and if their children are safe to play in their backyard. The UB study does not address these concerns because no testing was performed in these high exposure areas. This needs to happen.”
“Lastly, and most importantly regarding the current work, the community needs to see the raw data.”