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Lawmakers ask probe of coke plant

October 18, 2009, 6:37 AM /

Lawmakers representing Grand Island and the Town of Tonawanda on Saturday joined the recent chorus of concern over benzene levels released into the atmosphere at the Tonawanda Coke plant.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, and County Legislator Michele Iannello, D-Kenmore, held a news conference Saturday morning at Beaver Island State Park, calling on the State Attorney General’s Office to investigate.

“Benzene is being emitted into our atmosphere at extremely dangerous levels,” Hoyt said. “This issue affects not just Tonawanda but our entire region. I am calling on the State Attorney General’s Environmental Protections Bureau to act swiftly to use their powers to investigate Tonawanda Coke.”

Hoyt and Iannello were joined by representatives of the Western New York Clean Air Coalition and residents of Grand Island.

“The toxins spewing out of Tonawanda Coke are harming the people of this community, and it has to stop,” Iannello said.

Tonawanda Coke has dismissed the recent results of a yearlong study by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that found benzene was being emitted up to 75 times higher than recommended guidelines. Benzene has been linked to several cancers, including leukemia, and damage to the immune system and bone marrow.

The plant’s owner, J. D. Crane, said in an August letter to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer that he believed the majority of the benzene in the area came from motor vehicles, which a DEC official said was disproved by the recent testing.