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Citizens urged to become environmental watchdogs

WBFO file photo

A local group is empowering people to become environmental watchdogs in their own backyards. Citizen Science Community Resources is holding a free science workshop and conference Saturday, where participants can pop in anytime from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The workshops will teach do-it-yourself methods for testing levels of pollution in air, soil, and water.

Group founder Jackie James-Creedon tells WBFO her mission began for personal reasons.

“It all started over 10 years ago. I have a chronic illness, fibromyalgia, and no one knows what causes

fibromyalgia. I thought it had something to do with the environment, which I grew up in Tonawanda,” said James-Creedon.

She blames Tonawanda Coke for polluting the area. Tonawanda Coke produces foundry coke for use in fuel and steelmaking and is located on the Niagara River. The corporation has paid more than $40 million in federal and civil lawsuits involving claims of environmental damage.

“I started talking to my neighbors about my illness, and lo and behold, there were so many other people sick in Tonawanda. And we all thought it possibly had something to do with the environment … We learned of a technique, using a Home Depot bucket, retrofitting it, and taking our own air sample,” she explained.

The test bucket, which cost about $150 to assemble in 2004, found dangerous levels of benzene in the air, according to James-Creedon.

Now, she’s encouraging local residents to use scientific data to hold companies with irresponsible environmental records accountable.

“It really isn’t that complicated and that’s why we’re asking people to come out and take a look at these techniques, because with technology today and the improvements in technology, these techniques are becoming easier and easier to use and less expensive, too,” said James-Creedon.

Workshop attendees are invited to bring their own soil in zip lock pint bags for free analysis. An X-ray fluorescence analyzer will be available to test for toxic metals in soil.

The event will also feature speeches from a prosecuting attorneys in the Tonawanda Coke case and an attorney from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Also speaking will be a representative from the New York State Department of Health.

James-Creedon believes the pollution emitted from Tonawanda Coke can be linked to more than her own maladies.

“There are a lot of neighbors that have many more illness than just fibromyalgia. I mean, there was a New York State Department of Health cancer surveillance study that was released a couple years ago and it showed that, sure enough, certain cancers were very much elevated in this area,” she said.

Tonawanda isn’t the only city with environmental problems. Today, the group will be taking registered participants on a bus tour of toxic sites throughout Western New York.

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