Health Concerns Related to Lackawanna Fire; Precautions to Take to Keep Your Family and Pets Safe

Modified: November 9, 2016 3:45pm

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 From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale R. Burstein

Date November 9, 2016                               

CONTACT: Mary C. St. Mary/Mary.StMary@Erie.Gov

Phone: 716.858.4941/ Mobile: 716.253.3925

 Health Concerns Related to Lackawanna Fire

Precautions to Take to Keep Your Family and Pets Safe

ERIE COUNTY, NY— The extent of the ongoing fire at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, New York, is affecting not only residents and businesses in the immediate locale, but also sites downwind from the extensive smoke.

"Erie County residents in the area affected by this fire should avoid being exposed to the smoke as much as possible,” said Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health. “All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (“PM” or soot). Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided.  Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g. asthma), pregnant women, young children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the negative health effects of smoke exposure.”

Smoke can contain many different chemicals, the type and amount of particles and chemicals depends on what is burning, how much oxygen is available and the burn temperature.  Inhaling smoke for a short time can cause immediate (acute) effects.  Smoke is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, and its odor may be nauseating.  People with respiratory conditions may experience difficulty breathing.  Carbon monoxide decreases the body’s oxygen supply, causing headaches, reduced alertness, and can aggravate heart conditions.  Fine particulate matter can worsen asthma and heart conditions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has deployed particulate matter analysis equipment and those results are expected this afternoon. Erie County Hazmat has setup four air sampling sites in Hamburg and is conducting routine air sampling in areas downwind of the fire. 

“Testing conducted for volatile organic compounds (“VOC”) are showing readings of zero and oxygen levels in ambient air are normal,” stated Burstein. “People who live or work in the surrounding area can expect the extremely unpleasant smell from the fire to linger for a few days to weeks. The smell may be aggravating, but the odor itself poses no health risk.”

Over the next few days residents may find a layer of fine soot on outdoor structures (house, porches, patio, play equipment). Hosing down or washing affected areas with a mild detergent solution will effectively remove it.  Avoid touching soot or ash, if you accidentally come in contact with it, wash your hands, change your clothes or shower. 

“The water supply is from Erie County Water Authority (“ECWA”).  ECWA reports that there is no impact on water supply or water quality due to the fire,” stated Burstein. “We will remain in contact with ECWA throughout the duration of this emergency.” 

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For More Information:

New York State Department of Health—Exposure to Smoke from Fires

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health


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