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Formaldehyde still high in air around Tonawanda Coke

WBFO File Photo

With the dramatic drop in pollution coming out of the Tonawanda Coke plant because of repairs and renovations, the expectation was fewer contaminants in the neighborhood. However, state air monitors are finding that is not quite true.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has two permanent air monitoring stations near Tonawanda Coke. They have found dramatic dropoffs in some of the chemicals coming out of the plant, including benzene and some other carcinogenic chemicals.

What has not dropped off is formaldehyde and that has precipitated some serious research to find out why. Scientists discovered it was because of economic improvements.

Tom Gentile is DEC Chief of the Air Toxics Section of the Air Resources Division. Gentile says the results showed it took some time to figure out where some chemicals were coming from.

"Tonawanda landfill closure was going on. There were a lot of heavy duty diesel vehicles working on closure of that landfill. They were capping it. You can see it's partially capped there," Gentile explained. "I talked to the contractor. He had like over 140 heavy duty diesel trucks going by, up this way and around and through and up and in right around the monitor, all the time. You can imagine the amount  of heavy duty diesel construction equipment here. It emits a lot of formaldehyde."

While there are better diesel engines out there and better controls, Gentile says unlicensed construction equipment does not have to be equipped with it - although cleaner-burning diesel fuel helps, with or without controls, and he wants to see what the results for this year show.

Gentile says the construction seemed to be winding down this year and he is looking forward to results from the monitoring stations to see if the air is now cleaner.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.