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Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study

About the Tonawanda Study

In July 2007, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) initiated a year-long community air quality monitoring study in the Town of Tonawanda (Erie County) to measure the concentration of air pollutants within the community and evaluate the potential risk to public health. The Study community is an urban area and home to some of New York's largest industrial facilities. The Study was funded through in-kind contributions from DEC and a Community-Scale Air Toxics Ambient Monitoring Grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Air monitors were installed at four locations in the community to measure air concentrations of 56 air toxics and fine particulate matter. One of the monitors also measured sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. A comprehensive inventory of sources was prepared for the Study area to use in modeling air toxics that were unable to be monitored and to evaluate how well the models estimated air pollutant concentrations in relation to the monitored results. A meteorological station was installed at one location for use in assessing source contributions and the influence of wind direction.

A public health evaluation was conducted by comparing the results from the air toxics monitoring with DEC's health-based annual guideline concentrations. DEC provided the monitoring and modeling information to the New York State Department of Health to assist in their assessment of a community health study in the Tonawanda community.

Major Findings of the Tonawanda Study

  • The results of this Study provide a strong basis for further compliance monitoring and regulatory actions to reduce the risk associated with exposures to air pollution in the Tonawanda community.
  • The public health evaluation indicated that the highest area of cancer risk in the Study community was located in the industrial area at the Grand Island Boulevard Industrial (GIBI) monitor. An estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk for benzene was calculated to be 75 in-one-million. This conservative cancer risk estimate assumes continuous exposure for 70 years (365 days per year, 24 hours per day) at this monitor location and assumes that the benzene concentrations remain constant for 70 years. Additionally, an "upper-bound" estimate on the likelihood that benzene causes cancer was used in this Study. As a result, the true risk of developing cancer from benzene exposure is not likely to be higher, and may be lower, than the estimate provided in this study.
  • Elevated concentrations of benzene and formaldehyde were found at the industrial monitor on Grand Island Boulevard located next to NOCO Energy Corporation. Higher daily concentrations of benzene were found when the wind came from the direction of the largest known point source of benzene, the Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC). The formaldehyde evaluation indicated that the measured concentrations were influenced by local facilities and mobile sources.
  • The annual average concentration for six air toxics (1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and formaldehyde), each exceeded DEC's health-based annual guideline concentrations.

More details about the benzene results

  • The benzene concentrations found in the Study varied greatly across the community. The highest concentration was found at the Grand Island Boulevard Industrial monitor adjacent to the industrial site. The benzene concentrations found at the Sheridan Park Water Tower (SPWT) and Beaver Island State Park (BISP) monitors, both in residential neighborhoods, were similar to outdoor air concentrations found in the New York City area. The Brookside Terrace Residential Site (BTRS) monitor in a residential neighborhood measured benzene concentrations slightly higher than concentrations found in New York City area.
  • The most recent monitoring data (July 2011 - June 2012) shows a decrease in benzene concentration in the community compared to the Study period (July 2007 - June 2008). The results at the industrial monitor (GIBI) show a reduction in benzene concentration of 86%. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk was calculated to be 11 in-one-million. The residential monitor located at Brookside Terrace (BTRS) shows a 69% reduction in benzene concentration compared to the Study period. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk at this monitor was calculated to be 5 in-one-million.
  • Observed benzene reductions were the result, in part, of operational modifications made by TCC in response to NYSDEC and USEPA's inspections of the facility and subsequent federal and state enforcement actions against TCC along with a reduction in overall production in the years following the Study year.

What is being done to decrease exposures to air pollutants in the Tonawanda community?

  • In 2008 and 2009, DEC increased compliance inspections of all air pollution sources within the Study community and also has inspected additional sources outside the Study area. These inspections have focused on known facilities releasing benzene and other air toxics.
  • During and after the Study period, DEC regional staff observed TCC facility operations to assess potential locations of air contaminant emissions and compliance with its facility air permit.
  • Specifically in April 2009, the EPA and DEC conducted a comprehensive compliance inspection of TCC. Civil enforcement actions were issued to TCC for violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Through the enforcement actions, the agencies are continuing efforts to further reduce emissions from the TCC facility. The emission reductions that have already occurred have resulted in reduced ambient air concentrations which are outlined in the full Study report and periodic updates that are available within additional pages of this DEC web site.
  • Additionally, in December 2009, the US Attorney's Office for the Western District of NY led federal investigators on a raid of TCC and subsequently commenced a criminal action against TCC.
  • For a summary of the activity that has occurred at TCC post-Study, please visit the EPA website and select "Community Update April '11". See Links Leaving DEC's Website.
  • DEC also is reviewing the state and federal conditions contained in the air permits of the facilities in the Study community to evaluate if any conditions should be modified to ensure better work practices and oversight of these practices to help reduce emissions.
  • DEC continues the air monitoring at two locations in the Study community. The results from these monitors will be used to examine further air pollution reduction measures for the facilities in the community.

Where can I find more information?

Who should I contact if I have questions about the air quality study?

Questions About Emission Sources

Mr. Larry Sitzman
625 Broadway
Albany NY 12233
(518) 402-8508


Mr. Al Carlacci
270 Michigan Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14203
(716) 851-7130

Questions About Tonawanda Study

Mr. Tom Gentile
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233
(518) 402-8402

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