Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Bethlehem Steel Plant Fire Air Monitoring Results

Lackawanna, NY

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, a fire broke out at the site of the former coal mill of the Bethlehem Steel plant. Heavy smoke from this industrial site caused concern for area residents. Staff from multiple state and local agencies assisted at the site and Governor Cuomo directed DEC to do additional air monitoring in the area.

On November 14, DEC released the latest data available on Particulate Matter for the Bethlehem Steel fire in Lackawanna, NY. DEC set up two air monitors beginning on November 9th to assess air quality in the area of the fire. The sampling sites to the east and east northeast of the fire, were selected based on forecasted wind direction. The monitors were located within the residential neighborhoods on Electric Avenue and on Madison Avenue in Lackawanna. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided additional air quality monitoring in other areas of the community.

The plume from the fire passed over the monitor on Madison Avenue in the afternoon and evening of the November 10th. The plume moved easterly and impacted the monitor on Electric Avenue early on November 11th. The Particulate Matter (PM) concentrations at times during these periods were in the hazardous Air Quality Index (AQI) category. These levels were expected and are consistent with instructions that were issued by local first responders at the time to shelter in place, and later to evacuate, and limit exposure to the smoke. PM concentrations have decreased to baseline levels and are now consistent with expected levels for this time of year in the Buffalo area, and the state worked with the Lackawanna Mayor to lift the evacuation order and allow residents to return to their homes on Friday. DEC is continuing to monitor air quality as fire response and investigations continue.

PM 2.5 concentrations peaked at 10 ug/m3 early AM on 11/10 but returned to normal by late 11/10
This figure is data collected on the evening of Nov 9 and morning of November 10 using portable
non Reference Method instruments. The sites were on Electric Avenue.

PM 2.5 and PM 10 peaked at 500 ug/m3 on 11/10 on Bocce Ct but returned to 0 by 11/10
This figure is for the monitor located at the end of Madison Avenue.

PM 2.5 and PM 10 peaked at 250 ug/m3 early on 11/11 on Electric and Cleveland but returned to 0 by 5 PM on 11/11
This figure is for the monitor located at the Electric Avenue site.

To see current air monitoring conditions for PM, visit our NYS Air Quality Stations Map application (leaves DEC website).

VOC Canister Sampling at Lackawanna Fire Site

Three canister samples for Volatile Organic Compounds(VOC) were collected on 11/10/16 and one on 11/11/16 in the vicinity of the Lackawanna fire site. Details of the sample collection are provided in Table 1 below.

map showing location of collection site #1 on Spruce St and # 2 on Madison Ave

map showing collection site # 3 on Lake Ave

Table 1: Sample Collection Information
Sample # Date Time Location Lat. Long.
1 11/10/16 11:08 - 12:02 Spruce St. Tennis Court 42.81097739 -78.842227
2 11/10/16 11:13 - 12:10 Madison Ave Bocce Field 42.81103847 -78.83925812
3 11/10/16 17:30 grab Seal Place 42.81379096 -78.83224023
4 11/11/16 11:07 grab 3711 Lake Ave 42.79781415 -78.84230393

Note that samples 1 and 2 are composite 1-hour samples while samples 3 and 4 are grab samples. Grab samples reflect an instantaneous reading whereas composite samples represent time-averaged concentrations. Location maps are shown in Figures 1 and 2.

The canister samples arrived at the DEC toxics laboratory in Rensselaer Friday evening for Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) analysis. Forty-five Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) are routinely analyzed in the statewide toxics network using EPA Method TO-15. The analysis was performed expeditiously and results are listed in Table 2. The concentrations are in parts per billion by volume (ppbv). Also listed are the method detection limit (MDL) for each compound, as well as the most current sampling results (11/2) for the Buffalo monitoring station at Dingens St. The MDL is the minimum level of analyte present in the ambient air before it can be quantified.

Table 2: Lackawana Special Sampling and Latest Available Buffalo air Monitor VOC Results
Compound Name #1 #2 #3 #4 Buffalo 11/2 MDL, ppbv
Dichlorodifluoromethane 0.483 0.472 0.473 0.504 0.519 0.008
Chloromethane 0.556 1.301 1.014 0.458 0.465 0.007
Dichlorotetrafluoroethane 0 0 0 0.02 0.016 0.006
Vinyl Chloride 0.133 0.062 0.075 0.004 0.006 0.008
1,3Butadiene 1.576 4.628 2.587 0.081 0.018 0.005
Bromomethane 0.298 0.565 0.349 0.009 0.012 0.006
Chloroethane 0 0.068 0.04 0 0 0.005
Trichlorofluoromethane 0.227 0.261 0.226 0.308 0.235 0.008
1,1Dichloroethylene 0 0 0 0 0 0.010
Dichloromethane 0.033 0.046 0.038 0.041 0.046 0.010
Trichlorotrifluoroethane 0.063 0.061 0.061 0.068 0.076 0.006
1,1Dichloroethane 0.003 0 0 0.001 0.002 0.007
Methyl Tert Butyl Ether 0 0 0 0.001 0.002 0.005
trans 1,2Dichloroethylene 0 0 0 0 0 0.004
Chloroform 0.026 0.029 0.025 0.02 0.025 0.005
1,2Dichloroethane 0.016 0.017 0.018 0.013 0.015 0.009
1,1,1Trichloroethane 0.005 0.002 0.003 0.003 0.004 0.006
Benzene 10.811 36.545 15.938 0.839 0.203 0.018
Carbon Tetrachloride 0.072 0.072 0.075 0.077 0.08 0.006
1,2Dichloropropane 0.007 0.006 0.005 0.005 0.003 0.010
Bromodichloromethane 0.004 0 0 0.001 0.001 0.010
Trichloroethylene 0.007 0.008 0.005 0.053 0.023 0.008
cis1,3Dichloropropylene 0.004 0.005 0.003 0.001 0.001 0.009
trans1,3Dichloropropylene 0.005 0.005 0.003 0.001 0 0.009
1,1,2Trichloroethane 0 0 0 0 0 0.010
Toluene 2.388 5.443 3.326 0.272 0.429 0.013
1,2Dibromoethane 0.003 0 0 0 0.001 0.011
Tetrachloroethylene 0.01 0.016 0.011 0.012 0.022 0.008
Chlorobenzene 0.04 0.184 0.099 0.006 0.002 0.009
Ethylbenzene 0.826 1.699 1.543 0.089 0.06 0.009
m,pXylene 0.338 0.729 0.364 0.152 0.202 0.025
Styrene 2.335 4.709 3.209 0.105 0.3 0.015
1,1,2,2Tetrachloroethane 0.012 0 0 0 0.001 0.012
oXylene 0.103 0.23 0.143 0.058 0.083 0.013
1,3,5Trimethylbenzene 0.042 0.084 0.074 0.013 0.017 0.011
1,2,4Trimethylbenzene 0.046 0.062 0.043 0.044 0.06 0.013
aChlorotoluene 0.029 0.03 0.027 0.005 0.003 0.015
1,3Dichlorobenzene 0.012 0.011 0.005 0.001 0.001 0.016
1,4Dichlorobenzene 0.019 0.012 0.006 0.002 0.005 0.014
1,2Dichlorobenzene 0.024 0.066 0.034 0.002 0.002 0.016
1,2,4Trichlorobenzene 0.069 0.03 0.013 0.003 0.006 0.028
Hexachloro1,3Butadiene 0 0 0 0 0 0.012
Acrolein 0.65 1.568 0.852 0.063 0.144 0.028
Carbon disulfide 0.027 0.041 0.018 0.004 0.018 0.007
Naphthalene 1.43 3.312 1.468 0.056 0.045 0.839

Findings

Elevated levels of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, styrene, naphthalene, and 1,3-butadiene were observed during the first sampling day when the fire was intense and smoke was billowing. The highest benzene concentration was observed at the Madison Ave Bocce Field (Sample #2). These are expected combustion products from fires. By Friday after the fire was out, the sample collected at Lake Ave (Sample #4) showed much reduced concentrations, and similar to the sample collected on 11/2/16 at the Dingens St Buffalo monitor.

A presentation about the monitoring results (PDF, 1.62 MB) was given on 11/16/16.

Summary of Microscopy Analysis of Sampling Filters collected during and after the November 9-11, 2016 Lackawanna Fire

The following study is available in PDF format:

In November 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) responded to a large structure fire that broke out on November 9th at the former Bethlehem Steel plant on NYS Route 5 near Lincoln Ave. The DEC's initial response included staff from the spills response program who were able to assist in the evaluation of the impacts on water and air quality in the immediate vicinity of the structure. Additional staff from the Division of Air Resources were called to help assess the impacts of the plume on neighborhoods downwind of the fire.

DEC assisted the on scene EPA emergency response staff by placing two Aerosol Monitors in areas where the plume from the fire was expected to impact residences. The monitors were able to provide hourly data and also could collect samples of the filtered air stream for subsequent analysis. Eight samples were collected over approximately 2 weeks. The sampled filters were submitted to the NYSDEC Particle Identification Laboratory for analysis. The laboratory's objective was to determine if any hazardous particulate matter was present in the samples.

An image of one of the sample filters is included below. All of the samples showed evidence of combustion related particulate matter. The samples from the Lackawanna fire have similar characteristics to simulated combustion related petroleum materials. The image below on the left shows what petroleum products look like after combustion.

Petroleum after combustion
Laboratory simulated combusted petroleum sample
Image of sample filter from Cleveland and Electric Avenues
Cleveland Ave and Electric Ave.

The sample filters showed that the majority of the particulate matter collected on the filters was consistent with combusted petroleum products. Petroleum based products that produce this type of particulate matter can include plastic and other synthetic materials. Elemental analysis was performed on the sample filters as well as on a piece of material that floated from the fire onto a nearby property. The analysis found carbon, calcium, silicon, salts and other commonly occurring metals found in the earth's crust.

The microscopic and elemental analysis found that the samples represented combusted petroleum based materials. The results are consistent with samples impacted by a structure fire.

EPA Findings

The EPA Environmental Response Team conducted sampling and their data is available for the Steelworks Industrial Park Fire. The EPA updates this information as data sets are more thoroughly reviewed. Final deliverables from the EPA and their contractors will be uploaded to the site when they become available.

More information can be found regarding AQI categories on the EPA's website as well as an overview of the EPA's Environmental Response Program.

On 11/30/16, DEC and DOH issued a press release announcing additional air sampling and procedures for the company to address smoke damage clean up.

Additional information from the New York State Department of Health is available: