The first stages of the clean-up are underway at Erie Coke, but the long term situation remains very much up in the air.
One of the biggest questions…will the state be in charge of a clean-up or will this become a federal superfund site? Erie isn’t the first community to face that debate.
“The neighbors in the neighborhood, they have a right to know whether they can grow things in their soil or what the state of their ground water is, as well as the air quality.” said Sister Pat Lupo, Hold Erie Coke Accountable.
The sudden closing of Erie Coke was an ending and a beginning, a new round in the environmental fight. The clouds from the smokestacks replaced by clouds of uncertainty over the clean-up.
“There’s still too many unanswered questions about the nature and extent of the contamination. Both in the soil, the surface water and in the ground water. We really don’t know anything.” said Mike Campbell, Hold Erie Coke Accountable.
“As far as the lake is concerned, the results show no pollution hot spots near the Erie Coke area.” said Tom Decker.
Decker is with the State Department of Environmental Protection. He says they’ve also tested soil and ground water samples from Erie Coke, with no big problems to date.
“By and large, the results didn’t show any indication of a need to require the DEP to initiate an emergency action response.” Decker said.
But, this has been an industrial site since 1833 and a coke plant for decades. Environmentalists want a much closer look.
About 100 miles to the north, a court ordered study is providing possible answers for another community.
At the University of Buffalo, Dr. Joe Gardella led that study. He focused on the neighborhoods surrounding the now closed Tonawanda Coke plant.
“What it showed is that there are points, areas, spots with elevated levels of contamination. But, none in a systemic area, none at a level that looks to be dangerous to residents.” Dr. Gardella said.
According to Gardella, on site Tonawanda Coke is a different story. He says federal and state government reports, as well as his own samples revealed elevated levels of contaminats.
Dr. Gardella has no first hand knowledge about ERie Coke, but did offer advice.
“It’s important to take the lessons from Buffalo, Tonawanda and learn from it in ways that are going to help in Erie. It would be tragic not to learn those lessons.” Dr. Gardella said.
New York State has decided to oversee the clean-up at Tonawanda Coke. Environmentalists in Buffalo had pushed for it to become a federal superfund site.
“EPA is already on site doing a temporary removal action under temporary authority of Superfund, which is to us another example of how incredibly hazardous this site is.” said Rebecca Newberry, Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.
The new owners of the Tonawanda Coke property say a state-led cleanup will be more complete and take less time.
The DEP does not think Erie Coke meets superfund requirements and while the Tonawanda Site has changed hands, Erie Coke has not. This means that future use and the clean-up needed are just guesses.
“Preparation is all we can do right now and make people aware of the issue is not over.” Sister Lupo said.
Attempts to reach the owner of Erie Coke were unsuccessful. While the future of the land remains a question mark, there’s also concern for the people who may have been affected. That’s the focus of our digital exclusive, which you can watch right here