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Residents seek answers from UB about Tonawanda Coke study

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Local residents who spent more than a dozen years battling Tonawanda Coke are now having to fight the University at Buffalo. As WBFO's Chris Caya reports - residents say the University at Buffalo is keeping the community "in the dark" about how it's spending millions of dollars in fines awarded to UB. 

Appearing before Erie County Legislature Committee Thursday - Jackie James, founder of Citizen Science Community Resources says, she thought it was "a miracle" when Tonawanda Coke was found guilty and fined for releasing toxic gas and particulate into the community.
"That miracle, what we thought was a miracle in 2014, at the sentencing of Tonawanda Coke, got shattered into about a thousand different pieces. And that's because we entrusted what we thought was an organization, our university in our community, called University at Buffalo," James said.  

The judge awarded UB nearly $10 million to conduct a health study and open an environmental health education center for residents.
"This absolutely makes me sick to have to be here and to explain this to you."  

James says there's no oversight of how the money's being spent.
"It's supposed to help the victims of the crimes - our communities - and we have no idea what it's being spent on," James said.  

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joe Emminger told the lawmakers he and other elected leaders of communities impacted by Tonawanda Coke also can't get any answers.   
"I penned a letter signed off by Mayor Davis and Supervisor McMurray, to various people at UB and other places in state government explaining our frustration that this just wasn't a community effort. The community was supposed to benefit by this. And we were felt left out," Emminger said.

Representatives from UB did not attend the hearing. But in a written statement UB said, that it is "firmly committed to investigating how pollution and other factors have affected the health of citizens near the Tonawanda Coke site." UB went on to say, "additional resources will be made available to the public in the future, and when researchers have results to share."  

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