Expert: Lingering soot in Lackawanna concerning

UB Pollution Expert Reacts To Lackawanna Fire

LACKAWANNA, NY - 2 On Your Side is digging deeper into the air monitoring results released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, relating to last week's massive fire in Lackawanna at the old Bethlehem Steel site. Test results show, alarmingly high levels of hazardous chemicals in the air.

But, what does all this mean for those who've been impacted?

Joshua Wallace is an air pollution expert at UB. We ran by him, the air monitoring test results released by the state, to get a better understanding of the data.

"The soot, the smoke and that is really where from an environmental scientist perspective, that's where we get concerned," Wallace said.

The toxic soot and smoke was noticeable up until Friday of last week, when an evacuation order for residents was lifted. But, in the state data, that smoke and soot remained in the air until as recent as this past Tuesday -- just two days ago.

"And those levels were actually sustained for quite a long time," Wallace said.

On Tuesday, soot registered at 35 micrograms -- which is the EPA limit for a 24-hour period.

"The levels that were analyzed were right at the daily level exposure limit and that's kind of concerning to us because we don't want people breathing that obviously," Wallace said, "because they're so small and dispersed that then makes them very dangerous."

The DEC argues that the spike in soot on Tuesday was from tests done one minute at a time, not 24 hours at a time, which would give more reliable data and the DEC says that information is expected to be released in the coming days. Still Wallace says minute to minute data is important.

Another concern for Wallace, the DEC says it found dozens of chemicals, like benzene in the air.

"When you look at individual chemicals, sometimes you don't get the whole picture," Wallace said.

He says he also worries about the unknown -- what kind of health impacts there could be when chemicals mix together.

The fire at the old Bethlehem Steel site started eight days ago. Hotspots are still being fought. Demolition is ongoing. Wallace says continued exposure will impact people differently.

"If you remove yourself into an area where there is clean air, good ventilation, a very healthy person or a moderately healthy person will be able to bounce right back," he said.

But, for the elderly or disabled, Wallace says, "their bodies have already been struck once by some other ailment, so they're a little bit more vulnerable."

As for air quality as of Thursday, the DEC says it doesn't have that data yet, however, the DEC says people should limit their activities outdoors.


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