Tonawanda Coke Demolition a Triumph of Citizen Action

Article written by Jackie James for the Buffalo News.
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When the sun sets on Tonawanda’s skyline on Saturday, Tonawanda Coke’s stacks will no longer be an eyesore on the horizon.

The site’s three smokestacks will come down in a controlled implosion shortly after sunrise.

Let me be honest, I’m emotional about it. We spent more than 16 years fighting for our right to breathe clean air, and we won.

It gives me hope because it reminds me that sometimes David does beat Goliath. Sure, there is more work to be done. But let’s just take this opportunity to bathe in the light of victory, if just for a while.

Our “win” was due to the efforts of many. In 2004, we got off our couches, built an air sampler (made from a plastic bucket) and hunted for “that smell.”

What we discovered was alarming. We found benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in excess of 75 times the guidelines.

Riverside resident Adele Henderson, along with her husband, Bob Hirsch, City of Tonawanda resident Tim Logsdon, and I, a Kenmore resident, organized around our citizen science data and worked in collaboration with state and federal regulators to figure out where this benzene was coming from.

Our small group of impassioned residents fought and eventually won against Tonawanda Coke Corp., the predominant source of benzene in our community. As of 2018, when the plant closed, benzene has been reduced by over 92%. We now have clean air.

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