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City residents are seeking answers on the possible spread of asbestos

About a dozen Buffalo residents sought answers Tuesday about the possibility that asbestos may have traveled outside the long vacant Kensington Heights housing project, despite the release of federal testing results aimed at calming those fears.

A public meeting was held by the Environmental Justice Action Group in Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library at Jefferson Avenue and East Utica Street.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that tests performed outside Kensington Heights on Fillmore Avenue found no detectable amounts of asbestos -- or levels so low that they would not pose any safety risks.

However, some residents and community activists remain worried that youth sports teams and others who use Glenny Park may have been exposed to cancer-causing materials in light of allegations by federal prosecutors that two local contractors did not properly adhere to regulations regarding asbestos removal.

"What we're here for today is to talk about the health risks that were presented to those children that were in that field," said Larry Williams, a community activist who was one of the sponsors of Tuesday's public meeting.

"What are the short-term things that we can do? Where would we have to proceed to find out the information that is necessary and, hopefully, when all of this dies down, that we can turn this thing into a positive result," Williams added.

Judith M. Anderson, executive director of the Environmental Justice Action Group of Western New York, said the group is planning to develop a strategy that will provide the answers that residents are seeking by working directly with officials from the city, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, the state Department of Labor -- which is cooperating in the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office into improper asbestos removal allegation -- and state and federal environmental agencies.

"We want the community to be engaged in this process," said Anderson. However, she acknowledged that the ongoing federal investigation may pose some obstacles to acquiring information through the Freedom of Information Act. Anderson said the National Institute of Health Sciences may be of some assistance once residents can get more access to the environmental data.

"We're looking at several months of work to get the pieces together that we need," Anderson said. "We need to have accurate data that can back up our requests at that time."

Meanwhile, Michael J. Basile, a local spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, attended the meeting and read a statement from the agency. But he was enjoined from answering any questions because his agency was cooperating in the federal indictment by the U.S. Attorney's Office.