OPINION / COMMENTARY
Last week, the Commissioner of the New York State (NYS) Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that the two air monitors in Tonawanda will continue to operate until the end of 2013. This announcement comes after weeks of hard work by the Coalition’s dedicated membership.
The two air monitors in Tonawanda were installed after Clean Air Coalition members did their own air monitoring and found high levels of benzene in the air. Since then, the air monitors found elevated levels of 6 hazardous air pollutants and identified Tonawanda Coke as the predominant source of benzene in the town. The data was used by NYS DEC and US EPA to guide their enforcement action at the company that has resulted in benzene reductions of 86%!
But our members know that our air pollution challenges are not over. Air monitoring is a critical piece of solving the problem. Air monitors help verify that companies are honest about their reporting to DEC, captures when there are “accidental” releases at facilities and allows us to track our progress over time.
The air monitors in Tonawanda were put there because of organized people and they will stay there because our membership is talented, committed to learning more, and growing. How did we make this win happen?
- Tonawanda residents led. People know what they need in their neighborhood. Our staff held trainings for Tonawanda residents to learn how to communicate effectively with policymakers. Then we shut up and let our members tell their stories and demand the air monitors stay in place.
- We demonstrated public support for the air monitors. Our members collected over 250 postcards from their neighbors and generated nearly 500 signatures on an online petition.
- We demonstrated public support from policymakers. Our membership met with the offices of elected to request they reach out to Commissioner Martens. As of today, 6 policy makers have sent letters to the Commissioner.
- We let policymakers take credit for their work. Many policymakers issued press releases announcing their support for the air monitors. Combined with interviews from Coalition staff and members, this generated over 15 media hits.
When our members make noise, people in power listen!
Our fight isn’t over. We still need Commissioner Martens to commit to placing an air monitor on Buffalo West Side, a known toxic hot spot due to the high volume of diesel trucks. If you haven’t already, sign the petition and stay tuned for more opportunities to make your voice heard!