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Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study - Update, December 2016

Benzene Reduced

Eight years of air monitoring since the conclusion of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (NYSDEC's) Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study (Study) show reductions in the ambient concentrations of benzene and other air pollutants within the Tonawanda community. The results at the industrial monitor (Grand Island Boulevard Industrial or GIBI monitor) show a reduction in benzene concentration of 92%. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk was calculated to be 6.3 in-one-million. The results at the residential monitor (Brookside Terrace Residential Site or BTRS monitor) show a reduction in benzene concentration of 74%. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk was calculated to be 4.1 in-one-million, which is below most of the 2015 levels measured in urban and suburban locations in the state.

Observed benzene reductions were the result, in part, of operational modifications made by the Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC) in response to NYSDEC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) inspections of the facility and subsequent federal and state enforcement actions against TCC. Operational modifications include TCC improving its handling of coke oven gas throughout the plant through such means as the following: installing flares to manage the coke oven gas, performing numerous repairs to address leaks in the coke oven gas system, and improving the coke oven gas leak detection and repair program. TCC also made improvements to control the ammonia emissions from its waste water still and eliminated these emissions, which were suspected to have been the major source contributing to complaints of odors and eye, nose and throat irritation in the Study area.

Additional Air Toxics Reductions

Monitored data collected during the Study year identified four other air contaminants with local emission sources and measured average annual concentrations that exceeded their respective NYSDEC Annual Guideline Concentrations (AGCs); two Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs (1,3-butadiene, and acrolein) and two carbonyls (formaldehyde and acetaldehyde). The updated VOC and carbonyl data analyses presented in the "December 2016 Data Analyses Update Graphs" document include these five key contaminants. Like benzene, the ambient air concentrations and therefore exposure risks for these four other contaminants all decreased from the Study year to the 8th year post-Study at the industrial (GIBI) monitor. However, only two of these four additional contaminants had ambient air concentrations that decreased from the Study year to the 8th year post-Study at the residential (BTRS) monitor (acrolein and 1,3-butadiene). The other two contaminants (formaldehyde and acetaldehyde) had ambient air concentrations that increased from the Study year to the 8th year post-Study at the residential (BTRS) monitor. Field visits indicated a large increase in heavy duty diesel vehicle use in the area adjacent to the BTRS monitor as a result of the capping and closure of the Tonawanda Landfill and the construction of the North Youngmann Commerce Center. Analyses of local observed wind directions during this time period indicate that these construction activities, known to emit these two carbonyls (especially formaldehyde), are the source of the increased concentrations. The concentrations are expected to decrease with the cessation of construction activity in the area. The overall changes in both the ambient air concentrations and associated exposure risk estimates for all five of these contaminants at both monitoring locations are provided in the "December 2016 Data Analyses Update Graphs" document.

What is NYSDEC Doing to Improve Air Quality in the Tonawanda Community?

NYSDEC continues to monitor ambient air toxics at two monitoring stations in the Tonawanda community. The results have been used by NYSDEC to evaluate the effectiveness of emission reduction strategies at TCC for benzene and other air toxics found to be exceeding NYSDEC's health-based annual guideline concentrations.

NYSDEC participated in the Tonawanda Economy, Energy, and Environment (E3) sustainability initiative. This initiative is a coordinated federal, state and local program that helps communities work in collaboration with industry to promote sustainable manufacturing and growth while utilizing pollution prevention technologies to improve environmental quality. The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute provided direct technical assistance to six companies in the area to reduce energy use and reduce emissions in the community.

Where Can I Find More Information?

To learn more about the Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study, read the full Study report.