The former Bethlehem Steel site damaged by fire last month was turned back over to its property owners, Great Lakes Industrial Development, last week. Demolition is expected to take place over the course of months, Lackawanna officials said. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Local officials on Thursday fanned out across Lackawanna's Bethlehem Park neighborhood, delivering fliers to some of the roughly 345 homes alerting residents how to seek financial help for cleanup costs from last month's fire at the former Bethlehem Steel building.

Surface soot and ash spewed from the blaze.

Local and state officials Thursday confirmed an announcement from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health that the Bethlehem Steel property owner, Great Lakes Industrial Development, will pay for the cleanup of smoke and soot inside residents' homes.

Although "Great Lakes will take responsibility for cleaning people's houses, it's not a self-executing process," Assemblyman Sean Ryan said.

"Great Lakes isn't going to reach out to you. You have to reach out to them," Ryan said. "They will financially pay for the cost of the interior cleaning – and if you've already paid money out to a private company – Great Lakes will work with you to get that cost reimbursed."

The fliers included the number of the cleanup hotline, 207-8685, and the state's Department of Financial Services Disaster hotline, (800) 339-1759, for residents' problems with homeowner insurance carriers.

Phil Pantano, the spokesman for Great Lakes Industrial Development, said the company was finalizing plans for the process Thursday and will send a letter to residents in Bethlehem Park in the coming days. It will probably come by U.S. Mail, he said.

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Sen. Timothy Kennedy holds a flier on Madison Avenue Thursday before delivering it to residents in Bethlehem Park. (T.J. Pignataro/Buffalo News)

"They're going to pay for the cleanup of the interior of the house," Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said. "They're going to pay for the cost."

And the program is not exclusively for residents of Bethlehem Park.

Other Lackawanna residents – or those in nearly Blasdell and Hamburg – who may have suffered interior soot or smoke damage are also eligible to participate.

But, officials emphasized they must contact Great Lakes.

"Someone is not going to come to them," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

Poloncarz added: "The most important thing people can do right now is contact the hotline so that Great Lakes can get in there and do what's necessary to clean their homes ... so they can live in them and have a happy Christmas."

That cleanup is limited to the interior spaces, not outside the homes, officials said.

The damage was extensive throughout the neighborhood.

"The soot all over the homes: in the kitchens, in the living rooms, on the furniture, on the ceilings, on the walls, in the clothes, in the rugs. The soot from this fire is everywhere," Kennedy said. "The homes are a disaster from the soot and the cleanup costs are ridiculously expensive."

Also, officials explained that the follow-up sampling in Bethlehem Park will include ground testing, including what components in the soot remain on the grass and driveways.

It will be conducted by the DEC and state health department. It is expected to start right away.

Results will be available in a few weeks time, Ryan said.

Then, residents will be invited to another community meeting with state health and environment officials and possibly the federal Environmental Protection Agency at a time and place to be scheduled.

Other developments from Thursday's news conference include:

  • The source of the fire and its cause remains under investigation.
  • Confirmation that asbestos will be included in the regimen of follow-up testing.
  • Standard air monitoring protocol will be in place during any demolition work in coming months at the site of the fire.
  • The 3 to 4 million gallons of water used to fight the fire was collected by stormwater drains and treated on-site.
  • First responders and department heads will undergo a 90-minute medical examination to assess their post-fire health.
  • Residents with continuing medical conditions as the result of the fire are advised to seek treatment first at their primary care physician and then at the Environmental and Occupational Safety Health Clinic at the Erie County Medical Center if they don't improve.

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