Air quality still residents' big concern

Residents Say Air Smells, Soot Everywhere

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. -- Ashley Torres lives three houses from Bethlehem Steel on Pine Street,
When she stopped home after the evacuation was lifted, soot was everywhere.

"It's on the houses, it's in my lawn, it's in my yard where my kids play,” she said.

Torres found soot on counter tops, walls, her baby’s crib, and on her dog's paws.

A brand new air filter her family installed to test the air inside the house was dark gray after just 24 hours.

Her family is staying with her sister for now, and Torres says she's not coming home.

She doesn’t want her three children, one of whom is an infant, breathing that air or playing outside.

Julie Redden, who lives directly across the site on Lincoln Avenue, feels the same way.

"We want answers about that,” she said, pointing to what’s left of the burnt-out structure. “About what's being disturbed, what's in the air, what's on our roofs, on our playgrounds, on our lawns.”

Redden, too, is a mother. She works in healthcare and says she won’t believe the air is safe if and until state results say so.

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says the State D.E.C. did take samples to Albany for testing, but they won’t be ready for about a week.

Until then, Burstein says odors in the air aren't necessarily a cause for concern.

"Our noses are very, very sensitive, and we can detect odors that have of very low levels of chemicals in it,” Burstein said by phone Sunday night.

Dr. Burstein acknowledges the soot can have toxic chemicals in it, and for that reason, she advises taking precautions when cleaning it. She recommends wearing old clothes with long sleeves and wearing gloves. Basically, it’s best to cover your skin.

“If you use soap and water, there really shouldn't be a lot of generation of dust particles,” she said.

But the advice and the early air results that lifted the evacuation aren't enough for Redden and Torres. Redden, like Torres, continues to stay elsewhere.

“It's indefinite for us at this point,” Redden said.

Dr. Burstein said the Erie County Department of Health has to rely on the results.

She said when more demolition occurs, they’ll be monitoring the air again, not only for volatile organic compounds, but also asbestos.

“I can understand that, you know, smelling an odor that you usually don't smell, that may not smell good is very concerning, and again we have to rely on the results from the DEC and the State DOH that has advised us that that the air quality has returned to normal levels of what we expect in the area for this time of year,” Burstein said.


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