Schumer calls for end to Buffalo’s dust bowl

    Federal, state and local authorities are intensifying their efforts to force an embattled construction and demolition debris plant in South Buffalo to clean up its operation.

    Senator Chuck Schumer visited the Seneca Babcock neighborhood Wednesday  to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to send a message to Battaglia Demolition that “we will not stand by and allow this company to pollute our community without any consequences whatsoever.”

    The business, owned by Peter Battaglia, has been the target of neighborhood complaints about the dust, truck traffic spewing diesel fumes and health problems for a decade.

    Schumer called on the EPA to require the company to obtain a federal air pollution permit that would require it to track emissions, conduct random inspections, and work with the state environmental regulators to mitigate potential health risks.

    State and city authorities, after years of relative inaction, are also bringing pressure to bear on Battaglia following reports this summer by Investigative Post and organizing efforts by environmental activists.

    State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is weighing enforcement against Battaglia’s operation and city officials filed charges against the company in Housing Court last month contending it accepted garbage in violation of the company’s operating permit.

    The city’s action comes five months after the EPA and DEC inspected the business. The inspection resulted in the issuance of five violations on charges the company failed to obtain a federal air permit, control dust migrating off its property or maintain air pollution control equipment.

    Schumer referred to an Investigative Post story in April that cited the neighborhood concerns and the business’s troubled operating history.

    “This company has left the Seneca Babcock community in what one local media outlet called, ‘a decade-long dust bowl.’ ” That is not right, that is not fair and we need to change it,” Schumer said.

    Residents continue to complain about the 80 to 200 trucks that rumble down Peabody Street almost every day, the diesel fumes those trucks spew, and the dust in the air from the constant traffic and Battaglia Demolition’s concrete crusher.

    “Battaglia has ignored the concerns of the community and ignored the requests of regulators to clean up its act,” Schumer said.

    Battaglia declined an interview request. In the past, he and his defenders have said that he runs a lawful business and city officials are singling him out for political reasons in an effort to close the business.

    Schumer said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has tested dust particles that drift from the company’s facility onto neighbors’ cars, homes and property. The results showed the particles included cancer-causing silica and the senator said he is also concerned about asbestos in the dust.

    That dust and the other noxious pollution could be the reason why neighbors complain of headaches, bloody noses and breathing problems, he said.

    “The concern is real and we’ve got to see if there is a link,” Schumer said. “And Battaglia has resisted even finding out.

    “Imagine, people’s health might be at risk and a company that’s been here says ‘Too bad, we’re not even going to attempt to find out if we’re creating a problem.’ ”

    Residents are also concerned about the company’s impact on their health.

    “The diesel fumes and dust can be hazardous and cause cancer,” said Diane Lemanski, a Peabody Street resident.

    “We cannot open our doors or our windows. We cannot sit on our porches, we cannot even have our children play in the yards.”

    The EPA provided a prepared statement Wednesday that said it understands the community’s concerns, which are in part why it inspected Battaglia’s business with the DEC in April. The EPA said the DEC referred the matter to the state attorney general for enforcement.

    A spokeswoman for the attorney general said that the office is working on a solution.

    “It takes time and we’re working with a number of stakeholders in the community,” the spokeswoman said.

    Joseph Gardella, chairman of the Buffalo Environmental Management Commission, said the situation demands action now.

    “It hit a level of absurdity five, six years ago,” said Gardella, chemistry professor at University at Buffalo.

    “My feeling in listening to Battaglia over the past 10 years is the only way he is going to respond is if he is really closed down and then he has to negotiate what an appropriate operation is. The people who live here have been here before he was.”