TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) - Neighbors have long suspected cancer cases in the Tonawandas are related to pollution. The Clean Air Coalition wants factories in the area to be held to strict safety guidelines.
So what's the truth about air quality and potential links to cancer?
In 2009, the State Department of Environmental Conservation released a report that showed high levels of air pollutants, particularly benzene and formaldehyde, in the Tonawandas. In response, the Department of Health conducted a survey of health data for a 20-year period. It showed an increased incidence of some cancers and birth defects compared to the rest of the state.
Erin Heaney of the Clean Air Coalition said, "It really affirms what residents in the Town of Tonawanda have been saying for years, which is that there's a lot of illness in the community."
Roswell Park Department of Health Behavior Chairman Dr. Andrew Hyland said, "The history of that site has chemical manufacturing and other products. The residents are obviously right to be concerned."
But does that prove the air pollution was to blame for the illness?
Department of Health Research Scientist James Bowers said, "Unfortunately, the studies that we do that are like this are not able to make a cause and effect determination."
In other words, we can't be sure, especially since the types of cancer that were most elevated are also the ones caused by smoking.
The Department of Environmental Conservation began enforcement proceedings against polluters, and over the last four years, the levels have come down dramatically. Levels of benzene and formaldehyde are now at or below the state average. So from now on, whatever impact they have should be no worse than anywhere else.
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