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Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study


This page contains links to all of the information about the original Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study (Study) conducted from July 2007 through June 2008, updates about the improvements observed in local air quality since the original study concluded, and information on the state/federal civil and criminal enforcement actions undertaken at Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC).

  • Benzene Monitoring Data Update - December 2018
  • Air Quality Study, Data Analyses Graphs, and Community Presentations - Update, December 2016
  • Air Quality Study and Data Analyses Graphs - Update, January 2013
  • Air Quality Study and Community Presentations - Update, October 2011
  • Final Report - October 2009
  • Air Quality Study and Community Presentations - June 2009
  • Facilities and Air Monitoring Location Map

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 emission sources was prepared for the Study area to evaluate how well the models estimated air pollutant concentrations in relation to the monitored results and to use in modeling air toxics that were unable to be monitored. A meteorological station was installed at one of the local monitoring locations 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 (AGCs). DEC provided the monitoring and modeling information to the New York State Department of Health to assist in an assessment of health outcomes for Tonawanda and surrounding areas in Erie County. See link to Tonawanda Study Area: Health Outcomes Review in Links Leaving DEC's Website.

Major Findings of the Tonawanda Study

  • The results of the Study provided 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 concentrations for six air toxics (1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and formaldehyde) exceeded their respective health-based DEC Annual Guideline Concentrations (AGCs).

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 (GIBI) 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 2017 - June 2018) show 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 89%. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk was calculated to be 9 in-one-million. The residential monitor located at Brookside Terrace (BTRS) shows a 73% reduction in benzene concentration compared to the Study period. The estimated excess annual lifetime cancer risk at this monitor was calculated to be 4 in-one-million. See Benzene Monitoring Data Update, December 2018.
  • Observed benzene reductions were the result, in part, of operational modifications made by TCC in response to the NYSDEC's and the 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 was 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.
  • 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 of air toxics which are outlined in the full Study report and periodic community updates that are available through the links on this DEC web site. See Tonawanda Community Air Quality - Status Report, December 2016, Tonawanda Coke Corporation - Injunction Relief Actions
  • 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.
  • In March 2014, TCC was ordered to pay a $12.5 million penalty and make $12.2 million in community service payments for criminal and civil violations of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. For a summary of the criminal actions, visit the EPA Enforcement page (2014 Major Criminal Cases) under Links Leaving DEC's Website.

What is currently being done in the Tonawanda Community?

DEC continues the air monitoring at two locations in the Study community at Grand Island Boulevard (GIBI) and Brookside Terrace (BTRS). The results from these monitors are used to examine current air quality and trends in air toxics in the community since the conclusion of the original study.

Where can I find more information?

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

Questions about Emission Sources

Mr. Michael Emery
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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