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UB to study emissions from Tonawanda Coke, possible health impact

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Residents of the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda and Grand Island will soon be sought to participate in a multi-year study of emissions from a local plant, and how those emissions may have affected the health of the nearby community.

The University at Buffalo is moving ahead with plans to conduct a study that will spend five to ten years analyzing emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, which is funding the study as ordered by a federal judge.

A federal jury found the company guilty in 2013 of violating the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The following year, Judge William Skretny ordered Tonawanda Coke to fund studies of its emissions and their potential effects on the environment and the health of the nearby public. 

The study of possible health effects is expected to begin some time next year. UB researchers are now preparing to get the project underway by gathering recruits, up to 38,000 residents living in the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda and Grand Island. 

Among the toxic chemicals included in coke oven gas are benzene and formaldehyde. 

"It's really impossible to tell what we'll find," said Dr. Matthew Bonner, associate professor and lead researcher. "So, I think it's important to keep in mind that the goals of the research are to understand whether there are health effects associated with such exposure."

Dr. Bonner says the success of the study over the next decade will depend on the level of participation by the public. An active recruitment campaign will take place over the next year.

"We think this is an opportunity to increase our understanding of the role that chemical exposures may have on health within communities, really with the ultimate goal of learning how to prevent environmentally-caused disease in the future," Dr. Bonner told WBFO.

The study of potential health effects will cost an estimated $11.4 million. Tonawanda Coke has also been ordered to spend an estimated $700,000 to fund a study of environmental effects. UB will conduct that study as well, in partnership with SUNY Fredonia and Citizen Science Community Resources.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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