By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Joseph Martens, will visit Tonawanda Thursday and take a tour of the industrial corridor, Clean Air Coalition Director Erin Heaney confirmed Tuesday.
Martens initially announced the trip in February after the Department of Health released a study of the Tonawandas that found significantly high rates of lung, bladder, esophageal, uterine and oral cavity cancers and leukemia, as well a surge of health problems among newborn babies and mothers including heart defects and premature births
Although Martens' original trip date of March 15 was canceled due to scheduling conflicts, Heaney said Martens has rescheduled for Thursday afternoon. The DEC office in Albany did not return calls Tuesday to comment on Marten's visit.
"He committed to coming last summer," Heaney said. "We're excited to talk to him about the issues."
Heaney said Clean Air Coalition representatives will spend an hour with Martens in Tonawanda, and an hour on the West Side of Buffalo.
"We are going to do a quick loop of the industrial corridor so he can see all the big polluters, and how many of them are in the area, as well as the installed air monitors," Heaney said.
Martens will then meet with Heaney and other coalition members at the River Road Volunteer Fire Company to discuss a variety of local health and environmental concerns.
First on the chopping block is Tonawanda Coke — the plant found guilty late last Month of violating both the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Although the federal trial is now over, the coalition is still keeping watch on the River Road coke-making plant.
"We want to talk to him about Tonawanda Coke's permit, and make sure it is on his radar," Heaney said. "It should be written as strongly as possible."
The coalition will also be sharing the results from a community vote event in February at which residents identified what they see as the biggest issues. The DOH study will also come up, Heaney said, as the findings likely point to the effects of the companies' emissions.
"We will ask him and the DOH to do a better job communicating with each other, and come up with an action plan for what the next steps should be," Heaney said.
She'll also be asking Martens to commit to keeping the air monitors in the area. As of right now, their continued use is only definite until 2014, Heaney said.