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Tonawanda Coke leaves toxic soil and threat to Niagara river after it shuts down

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-18 08:31:12-05

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Toxic soil was found in areas around the Tonawanda Coke plant.

According to a University at Buffalo study, there are various levels of benzine related chemicals in the soil.

"Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are benzine related compounds that area also emitted with the benzine that was being emanated from Tonawanda Coke and they last in soil for a long time," Joseph Gardella, a professor of chemistry at UB who leads the soil study, said.

While those levels can be considered toxic, there is no need to be overly-concerned.

"The majority of contamination at six inches occasionally was elevated above the standard but because we are taking at six inches we are not at an immediate exposure risk," Gardella said.

Essentially, that means the contamination is too low in the ground to be an alarming threat to your health.

"Having one sample in somebody's yard that has one number that's above isn’t going to trigger a massive concern because with a lot of soil contamination you can go five inches away take another sample and the sample will be fine," Gardella said.

The areas of main concern are between the streets of Franklin and Hackett in the city of Tonawanda. In Grand Island, toxic soil was found near the William Kaegebein Elementary school. The Superintendent has already addressed the issue and said there is no health threat to students.

The two part soil test has so far examined 310 samples since 2017.

Part of the goal is to determine what fraction of contamination Tonawanda Coke is responsible for since some contaminants can be attributed to burning fossil fuels.

Soil isn't the only thing at risk.

Erie County Legislator, Kevin Hardwick, is petitioning the federal government to designate Tonawanda Coke as a superfund site. That would make cleaning the plant up a federal priority.

"The concern is that some of this stuff that is on site will leech into the river creating even more problems," Hardwick said.

If and/or when the federal government designates it as a superfund site, is yet to be determined since it is currently in a shutdown.

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