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Letter: Higgins has the right idea on Tonawanda Coke cleanup

Recently, Rep. Brian Higgins stated in an article that the closed Tonawanda Coke site should not be allowed as a “brownfield site.” I agree with him entirely. During my long career as an environmental scientist/engineer at Calspan and the Corps of Engineers, Buffalo district, I investigated hazardous waste at three locations including Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel in Buffalo. I also directed the first investigation at the infamous Love Canal in 1976 while at Calspan.

Coke plants, including Tonawanda Coke were long time dispensers of hazardous waste during their long existence (years) both in the air and on the ground. These toxic substances will most assuredly be found in copious amounts in the soils and groundwater of this extensive site. They include benzene, toluene, xylenes and phenol, which are toxic or carcinogenic organic liquids, and coal tar which contains benzo (a) pyrene, a carcinogen.

“Brownfields” is a term used for less contaminated sites which can be remediated by fairly simple procedures such as removing contaminated top soil. Companies usually get tax credits for these types of cleanups.

There is no doubt that cleanup of Tonawanda Coke will be a long, complicated, very expensive process. Contamination will probably extend very deeply into the ground and groundwater, which may be reaching the Niagara River. This is simply not a cleanup that should be eligible for brownfields. Higgins has and always will be a protector of Buffalo’s waterfront.

Richard Leonard

Orchard Park

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