By Sydney Brown and James Jones
After months of work by Clean Air Coalition members, including two unanimously passed resolutions by the Erie County Legislature, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has announced the creation of a Tonawanda Coke Working Group in partnership with the Town of Tonawanda.
Though the Clean Air Coalition is encouraged by this announcement, we are disappointed that the state has not established a similar working group at American Axle. More than disappointed, we are appalled at the utter neglect by the State of New York of a Black community that has worked diligently for more than 10 years to clean up the PCBs and other hazardous waste left behind and in our neighborhood.
The American Axle site located in Buffalo’s East Side is ground zero for contamination. State records confirmed that the site contains hazardous oil, sludge and PCBs that have leached into the surrounding sewer system. PCBs are known to cause cancer as well as a variety of adverse health effects. Residents in the Delavan-Grider vicinity are afraid to drink their tap water and plant gardens in their backyards.
For the DEC to deny this community a formal working group on the remediation of American Axle is yet another way in which environmental racism harms communities of color. In the midst of a global pandemic and national uprising for Black lives, the inequality of access to community decision-making and the environmental racism within our region has been put on full display.
In this moment, the shared interest of poor and working class white people in the Tonawandas with Black and other people of color in the City of Buffalo is paramount. As both of our communities feel the effects of decades of harm done to us by polluters, our campaign teams are joining together to demand a thorough and community-centered cleanup and remediation at both sites.
As members of Clean Air’s Tonawanda Coke and American Axle campaign teams, we want to make our position clear: An injustice done to one of us is an injustice done to all of us. We will not accept the state’s disregard for Black health and dignity and will not be placated by an advisory group in Tonawanda at the expense of our members in Delavan-Grider. Until the DEC creates a community advisory group at American Axle, there will be no justice in either of our communities.
If New York State says that “Black Lives Matter,” they must stand for the health and dignity of all Black lives. Clean Air’s membership in the Northtowns and city stand together with one voice in asking the DEC: Whose lives really matter?
Sydney Brown is a board member of the Clean Air Coalition and part of the American Axle campaign. James Jones, a former town engineer for the Town of Tonawanda, is a member of the Clean Air Coalition.