Questions over use of Tonawanda Coke community service money

Local News

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have kicked off their efforts to determine the effect emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant had on nearby residents.

After being found guilty of breaking environmental law, Tonawanda Coke was ordered by a judge to spend more than $12 million funding two community service projects at UB. All but $2 million of that money has been delivered.

One study is focusing on soil near the River Rd. plant. The other, led by Dr. Matthew Bonner, is concentrating on the effects the plant had on the health of those nearby,

“We started our full recruitment in September,” Bonner said. “I’m happy to say at the moment we’ve got almost 10,000 participants enrolled so far.

But not everybody is on board with the way Tonawanda Coke’s community service payments are being applied. 

“The money was awarded to the community. It’s not being spent for the community,” said Maria Tisby, a member of the Clean Air Coalition, which fought against Tonawanda Coke for years.

Bonner disagrees, however. He says the results of his study will uncover lessons to be learned.

“Recognizing that historically, Western New York has had very high levels of air pollution and contamination from the steel industry and ancillary industries, including coke ovens,” Bonner said. “There’s a historical exposure that can be very high. If we don’t take that into account as well, we may really misunderstand what are the exposures that have happened.”

Bonner also noted there is oversight of how the money is spent, both internally and externally. Externally, his team submits reports to U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services twice a year.

“We do that,” Bonner said.

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