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Owner of burned former Bethlehem Steel buildings to cover local home cleanup

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The company that owns the former Bethlehem Steel buildings destroyed in a massive fire last month will help cover the cost of home cleanup for nearby residents.

Great Lakes Industrial Development has agreed to pay for services, or reimburse homeowners who have already spent their own money, to clean the interiors of their homes. Houses in the Bethlehem Park neighborhood area were showered with soot that came from the November 9 fire inside the large buildings along Route 5 and Lincoln Avenue.

"It's bad," said Amanda Bolstead, who lives near the fire site, when asked about the soot buildup inside her house. "I have popcorn ceilings. There's no way to clean popcorn ceilings."

But Bolstead is satisfied that Great Lakes Industrial Development has agreed to clean it.Elected officials pointed out that the company was under no legal obligation to take this step. 

Homeowners, however, must take the first step. Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski says a hotline has been established, 716-207-8685.

"You will call, you will leave your name, your phone number and your contact information and they will call you back and work with you," Szymanski said. 

State Senator Tim Kennedy has visited many of the homes affected and suggested the cost of cleanup, depending on the house, could be several thousand dollars.

"In the kitchens, in the living rooms, on the furniture, on the ceilings and the walls, in the clothes, in the rugs, the soot from this fire is everywhere," Kennedy said.

Elected officials also announced that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health will conduct ground testing to determine what contaminants may exist in the deposits left on lawns and driveways.

Residents with questions about long-term health effects were urged to call their doctor but Erie County has experts available, too. 

"We, of course, recommend that you talk to your primary care physician but if you have additional questions, you can go and talk to the experts at the Environmental and Occupational Safety Clinic at ECMC, who are actually trained to deal with these types of occupational issues or environmental issues that a normal primary care physician might not necessarily be able to identify," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Polonzarz and other elected leaders also praised the efforts of firefighters who put down the flames in relatively short time, averting further environmental threats.

Lawmakers say residents will finally get answers they've awaited since the fire broke out. It provides just as much relief to the politicians as it does the residents, as one Lackawanna Councilman explained.

"There are a lot of concerns in the First Ward that I think are going to be addressed today," said Councilman Abdul Salaam K. Noman, who represents that district. "I appreciate the complaints, the phone calls, the emails, but a lot of things I could not answer because I'm not an expert in that field." 

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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