Monday, February 3, 2014

An explosion at Tonawanda Coke on January 31st shook nearby houses

A cloud of smoke rises from the Tonawanda Coke plant after an explosion 
on the property Friday at about noon. (Photo: WGRZ viewer)
An explosion and fire at Tonawanda Coke on Friday emitted clouds of black smoke and rattled nearby houses. According to the company a small explosion and fire occurred about noon was result of a build up of oven gas in a coke oven that activated a safety valve. They said that the value acted as it was supposed to and the town's statement said the incident caused no damage.

However, according to WGRZ/Investigative Post environmental reporter Dan Telvock these initial statements contradict what the state Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) found later in the day. The DEC confirmed that there was a "significant explosion" that caused a fire and that there was damage to the plant. No one was was reported injured in the blast, but several sources report that some emergency responders were denied entry onto the property.

Tonawanda Coke plant (Photo: WGRZ)

Tonawanda Coke is a foundry coke and coal tar manufacturer located on a 188-acre site on River Road, along the Niagara River, next to the Grand Island Bridge and about a mile north of Buffalo. Foundry coke has been produced on the site since 1917 and was purchased by its current owners in 1978.

Tonawanda Coke is already infamous for releasing vast amounts of toxic chemicals into the air in violation of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act. The company was found guilty on 14 federal counts. The charges carry a maximum of 75 years in prison and the plant faces $200 million dollars in fines. Mark Kamholz, the company’s environmental compliance manager, was also found guilty of obstruction of justice. The owner of the facility, J.D. Crane, was not named in the indictment. Although the sentencing was initially set for July, it was postponed and the sentencing hearing has now been set for March 19, 2014 at 1 p.m.

The plant's history and lack of transparency mean that local residents and environmental groups are taking nothing at face value - calling for an investigation into the explosion and to what toxic substances workers and residents may have been exposed.

WGRZ reports that on Saturday (2/1) they reached out to Tonawanda Coke officials, the Town of Tonawanda and first responders to hear what they had to say about the disparity between their reports and the DEC's but no one returned their calls.

Link to WGRZ story 

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