The Tonawanda Coke Smoke Stacks Are Down but Remediation is Just Beginning  

The Tonawanda Coke Smoke Stacks Are Down but Remediation is Just Beginning  

Clean Air members gather to celebrate bitter sweet smoke stack victory and see a long road ahead for cleanup and healing 

As the three smoke stacks at Tonawanda Coke are demolished on June 5th, Clean Air members celebrate their victories for action on the site while standing firm in the community’s need for vigilance ahead. While the demolition removes one of the most visible symbols of Tonawanda Coke’s toxic history, the legacy and impact of the site remains on the hearts, minds and bodies of Clean Air members and other area residents.

Clean Air members celebrate the proven power of community organizing resulting in the groundbreaking Community Advisory Group on cleanup at the Tonawanda Coke site which has provided necessary transparency and accountability from parties responsible for the site’s ongoing remediation. Without this advisory board, the community would be beholden to New York State remediation programs that are slow and too often do not meet community needs.

“While the demolition of the stacks may be spectacular and very dramatic, the event doesn’t tell the narrative of over 100 years of harm done to our community. It doesn’t reflect the exhaustive measures expended to force the responsible parties to finally correct epic wrongs.  Remembering the past is the only way forward to guide our future.”, -Gary Schulenberg, Clean Air member and Kenmore resident.

After over a decade of community organizing by residents in Tonawanda, Grand Island, Kenmore and Buffalo, one thing has been made abundantly clear; it takes a sustained pressure of a whole community on the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, elected officials and other stakeholders to put people’s health and dignity above industry profit and the status quo. Clean Air members will continue to hold the NYSDEC, Honeywell, Jon Williams and other polluters across the region accountable to community health and justice.

The transparency and accountability to the community provided by the Tonawanda Coke Working Group has proven to have a direct impact on the speed and quality of all remediation thus far on the site. Site developer Jon Williams of RITC has proven that his company needs to be held accountable and under the watchful eye of community groups due to his decades long lack of action at the American Axle Brownfield site in Buffalo’s Delavan-Grider community. Clean Air members remain skeptical of future action on the American Axle site until and unless a robust and community driven group is established at the site.

“The demolition of the smokestacks shows the power of community organizing by organizations like Clean Air. Before residents got together at kitchen tables, backyards and union halls, Tonawanda Coke was allowed to violate the Clean Air Act and harm our communities with plumes of benzene and other toxic chemicals.  This event today shows that our communities need to remain vigilant for our own health, safety and dignity. Our work to hold all stakeholders, including the NYSDEC and polluters,  accountable will not stop now that the stacks have been toppled”,  Emily Terrana, Clean Air Environmental Justice Organizer

Tonawanda Coke is one of the most well known hazardous waste sites in the country. In 2014, the site was recognized as the only company in the history of the United States that was found guilty of 14 criminal accounts of violations of the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal law that governs ground contamination of hazardous waste.


The Clean Air Coalition builds power by developing grassroots leaders who organize their communities to run and win environmental justice and public health campaigns in Western New York.

RSS 2.0 feed. Reply to post, or trackback.

Leave a Reply