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Tonawanda Coke CEO's donations criticized by grass-roots group

A Tonawanda Coke executive's gifts to a college and children's museum are not sitting well with a local community group.

Citizen Science Community Resources, a grass-roots organization studying possible soil contamination by the company, says the $2 million in donations should have gone to residents who live near the company's plant on River Road.

Tonawanda Coke was fined $24 million after a jury found it guilty of criminal charges in connection with the illegal release of air and soil pollutants.

“We don’t deny that these donations were made to two worthy causes," said Jackie James-Creedon, director of the group. "But given the circumstances of how this money was made, wouldn’t it be logical to donate this money to the people that have been harmed by this company’s pollution first?"

Paul A. Saffrin, CEO of Tonawanda Coke, declined to comment on the criticism of his $1 million donations to Daemen College and Explore and More Children’s Museum.

The gift to Daemen, the largest private donation in its history, will go to the Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement and will be used to promote environmental sustainability efforts.

Saffrin said the gift, which came from his foundation, is not connected to his position at Tonawanda Coke. The foundation was started by his grandfather, J.D. Crane, who bought Tonawanda Coke in 1978.

James-Creedon, noting Saffrin's reference to the "City of Good Neighbors" in announcing the gifts, suggested he also help the neighborhood surrounding his manufacturing plant.

"There are many community groups in the neighborhood of Tonawanda Coke working directly with the people impacted by the egregious environmental crimes committed by this company," she said in a statement.

About half of the money from the company's $24 million fine will fund a 10-year, $11 million study into the health of Tonawanda and Grand Island residents.

Public health researchers at the University at Buffalo say their study will go a long way toward answering questions about the impact of Tonawanda Coke’s operations. The UB study would track the health of 38,000 residents, as well as current and former Tonawanda Coke employees.

A second UB study, this one a soil investigation, would examine the environment in and around the company’s River Road plant with an eye toward determining whether ground contamination levels are high enough to pose a health risk.

The fines were part of the sentencing imposed on Tonawanda Coke after a four-week trial that ended with a jury finding Tonawanda Coke guilty on 14 criminal charges.

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