Group Hopes to Find Cause of Illnesses

September 29, 2010 Updated Sep 29, 2010 at 11:35 PM EDT

By John Borsa

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September 29, 2010 Updated Sep 29, 2010 at 11:35 PM EDT

TONAWANDA, NY (WKBW) -- Jill Beauregard recently found out she has a lump on her breast.

Lovisa Anderson has been diagnosed with cancer, months after her sister died of the disease.

What do the three women have in common? They all lived in the same Grand Island community for the past few decades.

Beauregard's three husbands have all died, two of them from cancer.

"Three times I had to start my life over. For what?" Beauregard asked? "So somebody running the Tonawanda Coke plant can get rich?"

Hundreds of people gathered at Tonawanda High School on Wednesday night to fill out health surveys. The group Citizens for Justice said it will compile the data and issue a report in a few months.

"We're trying to build bridges between the communities," said organizer Joyce Hogenkamp "Hearing people's stories, trying to connect everybody so people don't feel alone."

Tonawanda Coke, many believe, is polluting the air in their neighborhoods and making them sick. Residents from five Tonawanda and Grand Island zip codes were invited to the meeting.

"Nothing has been done and this is the scary thing," said Anderson. "Something has to be done. Either they have to be closed or something has to happen."

Tonawanda Coke has never responded to repeated phone calls from Eyewitness News.

The company has been the subject of federal and state fines for violating environmental laws, a federal grand jury indictment and most recently a class-action lawsuit.

"People are getting sick," said Rae Selover, whose husband has been diagnosed with two types of cancer. "Nobody is doing anything about it."