Tonawanda Coke to Begin Processing Hazardous Waste

Residents near Tonawanda Coke are extremely concerned about their health and safety since The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) announced that Tonawanda Coke will begin processing materials from a hazardous waste site. NYS DEC released a fact sheet  announcing the processing to begin in early June. Despite the long history of Tonawanda Coke’s environmental and health and safety violations, NYS DEC has not notified residents living near the plant, or held a public meeting or comment process on how changes in emissions at Tonawanda Coke will be monitored.

Tonawanda Coke has a long history of breaking the law, which has impacted the lives of workers and residents living near the plant. In 2013, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty in criminal court of eleven counts of violating the Clean Air Act. In the investigation leading to the conviction, Tonawanda Coke was found to be disposing of hazardous waste without a permit, and additionally charged with three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act due to negligent waste disposal.

In 2016 the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (USOSHA) levied fines against the company for being found at fault for the death of Richard Wade, a 60 year old employee after he was pulled into the rotating shaft of a coal elevator. This was not the first time the company faced workplace violations.  In 2014 the company faced fines from USOSHA following an explosion that occurred and exposed employees to asphyxiation from the release of coke oven gas. USOSHA found that the company failed to inspect and maintain proper safety systems.

Tonawanda is home to the highest concentration of major industrial facilities in New York State, with over 50 air-permitted facilities inside a three -mile radius.   In 2013, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) released the Tonawanda Community Health Study. The DOH study found elevated levels of certain cancers, including leukemia, pre-term births and heart defects in newborn children in the neighborhoods near the Tonawanda Coke facility.

NYS DEC is labeling the effort as an Interim Measure to cleanup hazardous waste from the former Allied Chemical site on River Road. NYS DEC states the site is contaminated with material such as cyanide, pyrene, benzene, naphthalene, and various heavy metals. DEC is working with Tonawanda Coke to excavate Coal Tar material from the site, to then process it in the Tonawanda Coke coking ovens. DEC has stated, If processing the material is not compatible with TCC’s coke making process, the measure may be discontinued.

This Thursday, Clean Air  called on NYSDEC Commissioner Seggos to delay the clean up until public comment process is initiated, including a public meeting where residents’ questions and concerns can be addressed. Tonawanda residents need to know that NYS DEC is not “solving” a soil pollution problem by converting it into a dangerous air pollution problem. Read our letter to the DEC.

For coverage of our press conference click here. 


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