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Residents mobilize to plan future environmental response

By Joyce Kryszak


Tonawanda, NY – Residents who live in the neighborhood surrounding Niagara Lubricant are taking environmental concerns into their own hands.

It was not until a day after the four-alarm blaze that the Environmental Protection Agency did any air testing of the toxic fumes. The EPA said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation did not call them until then.

DEC Region 9 Director Abby Snyder said it was up to the fire department to make those calls.

"The site itself fell under incidence command by the City of Buffalo, so we basically report to them," said Snyder. "We did raise the concern in terms of the smoke."

The Fire Commissioner said they were busy fighting the fire and left air testing to the environmental agencies.

The EPA Regional Administrator told WBFO Tuesday that, no matter what, a faster response is needed. Snyder with the DEC agrees with that and said the agencies have started having that conversation.

"What we talked about was trying to find a different way to actually respond to it, whether it's a contractor somehow, figuring out a funding mechanism, that if something like this happened a contractor could be called out and make those assessments," said Snyder.

But residents are looking for more concrete answers and a little more control over what is done to protect them.

In the initial absence of the DEC and EPA, the not-for-profit Clean Air Coalition of Western New York immediately was at the fire taking air samples. Residents have turned to the group for help.

The executive director of the coalition Erin Heaney said a group of about 60 residents met Wednesday and are already mobilized.

"The residents were extremely energized, we agreed to meet next week. We will have the results of the air testing back by that point," said Heaney.

"Hopefully, we're going to work in collaboration with the Buffalo Environmental Management Committee to hold an official public meeting where residents can get answers. And, hopefully, in partnership with that commission we will get residents a seat at the table in designing the next response, God forbid, it ever happen again."