Tonawanda Coke Found Guilty

Today, US District Court Judge William Skretny found that the Tonawanda Coke Corporation is guilty of criminal probation violations.

This verdict was delivered after a full day hearing last Friday, regarding violations of their 2014 criminal sentence. (watch Investigative Post’s summary of of Tonawanda Cokes criminal history) At the hearing the US Government referenced many instances where the company violated the probation order, including numerous compliance issues brought forth by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Environmental Protection Agency; specifically citing daily opacity violations, an inspection revealing a giant hole in the company’s ammonia tank resulting in a chemical leak, and structural damage at the facility. The US Government has requested requested that the court issue a Cease and Desist.

Sentencing will be determined this Friday at 9am at 2 Niagara Square. Join us for this historic moment.

Tonawanda Coke’s Probation Case Continues

This morning Tonawanda Coke appeared in US District Court in front of the Honorable Judge William Skretny regarding potential violations of the company’s probation from their 2013 court case and 2014 criminal sentence.

At the hearing, US Attorney Aaron Mango referred to many instances where the company violated the probation order, including numerous compliance issues brought forth by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Environmental Protection Agency; specifically citing daily opacity violations, an inspection revealing a giant hole in the company’s ammonia tank resulting in a chemical leak, and  structural damage at the facility. The US Government requested an immediate hearing, and if Tonawanda Coke is found guilty of probation violations requested that the court issue a Cease and Desist.  Mango went on to say “What the Government wants is for the community to stop breathing hazardous air.”

Attorney’s for Tonawanda Coke stated that the company has hired a expert to deal with the repairs to their coke oven battery and opacity, and  that this consultant will have a root cause analysis completed by September 14th.

Judge Skretny issued the following:

  • By close of business today, Tonawanda Coke’s attorneys must submit a response to the US Government’s petition.
  • By close of business tomorrow (Wednesday the 5th) the US Government must submit a response to the company’s papers.
  • By close of business on Thursday the 6th, the company must respond to the US Government.
  • Both parties will meet back in court on Monday the 10th at 2pm.

Clean Air will be holding a public meeting to discuss what happened in court, and generate community demands as this case continues.

The meeting will take place this Thursday, September 6th at the Broundshidle Post (3354 Delaware Ave. in Kenmore) at 6pm.

Tonawanda Coke to Appear in US District Court on Tuesday

On Tuesday, September 4th at 10:30am Tonawanda Coke and CEO Paul Saffrin are ordered to appear back in US District Court in front of the Honorable Judge William Skretny regarding potential violations of the company’s probation from their 2013 criminal sentence.

Federal probation officials contend the company’s emissions are a threat to human health and the environment and the company violated its pledge not to commit any other crimes after it’s sentencing in 2013.  The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has issued 176 violations to the facility since January.

Tonawanda Coke’s collapse of their heat waste tunnel earlier this year does not bear well for the future of the facility to remain in operation. In addition to the equipment failure, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued a Cease and Desist of the company’s coking operations this July. Despite the order, Tonawanda Coke has continued to operate.

Clean Air calls on the courts, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that Tonawanda Coke is accountable to workers and the community if the company is allowed to remain in operation, or if CEO Paul Saffrin decides to shut it down.

Clean Air’s requests include:

  • The US District Court, the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation require the company to submit and make public an emergency shut down plan, which includes how the company will contain fugitive air emissions in case of further collapse.
  • Clean Air does not believe that putting people out of work is the answer.  If CEO Paul Saffrin decides to take away the ability for his workers to provide for their families, instead of investing the protections to run a clean sustainable business, we request that a portion of fines are used to help workers gain skills for gainful employment elsewhere. In addition, Clean Air is calling on Judge Skrenty to require Tonawanda Coke to fund continued health monitoring of all employees, including temporary workers, to guard against any potential occupational health issues.
  • Clean Air is calling on Judge Skrently and the New York State Department of Conservation to require Tonawanda Coke and CEO Paul Saffrin commit and set aside funding for future site remediation in case of closure. Tonawanda Coke sits on river front property, in a neighborhood with families and children. Paul Saffrin should commit the appropriate funds to ensure site remediation to redevelop the site in a way that is consistent with the Tonawanda Tomorrow economic development plan.

Clean Air members who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the company’s property have experienced the egregious behavior of Tonawanda Coke for over a decade. Resident organizing resulted in a 2009 raid of the facility by 50 federal and state agents for ongoing environmental health violations. In 2013, a federal jury found the company and Mark Kamholz, environmental manager, guilty of 14 criminal charges, including violations of the federal Clean Air Act as well as violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, in regard to the improper disposal of benzene, a known human carcinogen.

Tonawanda Coke has also had a long history of endangering workers at their plant, in at least one instance resulting in death. In 2014, U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the plant and Kirchner LLC, which provides Tonawanda Coke temporary workers, with 17 serious violations. The violations included putting employees at risk of falls, amputations and crushing injuries, according to the agency’s press release. OSHA defines a serious violation as “when death or serious physical harm could result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known. Two years after OSHA cited the company with these violations, a 60-year-old employee, Richard Wade, died after he was pulled into the rotating shaft of a coal elevator. In a statement to the Buffalo News, OSHA stated the death could have been prevented if Tonawanda Coke followed federal standards.

Tonawanda Coke has been able to operate in this way because we exist in a economic system that allowed them to. We elect politicians that have enacted laws that have allowed them to. We participate in a culture that has allowed them to.  This company is not an isolated actor, and until we shift the types of businesses we have in our economy, and ensure that people are put first over shareholders and CEO’s wealth, the Tonawanda Coke’s of the world will continue to exist, and working class people and people of color will continue to bear the burden, and have to clean up the mess.

We encourage our members to attend this history hearing.  For more information contact Brian or Rebecca at 716-852-3813.

Tonawanda Coke Corporation Issued Shutdown Order!

Tonawanda, NY – On July 20th NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos issued a Cease and Desist Letter with a “Notice of Intent to revoke” DEC’s operating permit. The order states DEC inspected the Tonawanda Coke facility, on July 19, 2018 following numerous resident complaints. During the inspection DEC documented several violations of environmental regulations. Due to persistent and ongoing violations, DEC states the agency has made a determination to revoke the companies Title V Air Operating permit.
The Buffalo News has a good overview of the 176 violations that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has issued to the facility since January. These include:
  • Improperly placing hazardous waste into battery ovens,
  • Insufficient labeling of hazardous waste and record keeping violations,
  • Falling to perform required testing at a wastewater outfall earlier this year,
  • Twenty-nine violations related to chemical storage, including record keeping, labeling and maintenance violations and an unreported spill,
  • Unreported petroleum spills and unregistered tanks.


The latest action by the DEC stems from a decade long history of residents demanding accountability of TCC. The Clean Air was founded by Tonawanda residents who believed the pollution from facilities like Tonawanda Coke were impacting their health. After years of resident organizing Tonawanda Coke was found criminally guilty of violating the Federal Clean Air Act and Federal Hazardous Waste regulations.
This spring The Clean Air Coalition started receiving calls from Tonawanda residents about black smoke coming from the facility. Shortly thereafter, Clean Air received a tip from a former worker that there had been a major collapse of a Waste Heat Tunnel at Tonawanda Coke. After taking this information to local media, Clean Air urged residents to call the NYS DEC and file a complaint to hold Tonawanda Coke accountable for their actions.
The latest actions of DEC follows after years of residents complaints, petitions, protests, and demands for enforcement of the law. For members of Clean Air this order by NYS DEC has been a long time in the making. Clean Air applauds this effort by NYS DEC to protect public health and the environment in WNY.
Paul Saffrin, the CEO of Tonawanda Coke, has until August 4th to respond to the order.

Tonawanda Coke Confirms Waste Tunnel Collapse

In May, The Tonawanda Coke Corporation confirmed our allegations that the waste heat tunnel at their facility had collapsed, possibly causing toxic emissions to spew into the surrounding community.

The waste heat tunnel is a concrete tunnel that runs underground the length of the battery, all 60 coke manufacturing ovens. The main purpose of the waste heat tunnel is to collect the waste combustible heat from the ovens. Now that the tunnel has collapsed, gases can’t normally flow into the facility’s chimneys, and the company can’t draw enough fresh air into the manufacturing process. Without enough fresh air drawn into the process, the coking process will possibly create toxic releases into the ambient air, and into the surrounding community.

One of the chemical’s of concern is benzene, a known carcinogen linked to leukemia and other types of illnesses.

You can view the press coverage here from the Buffalo News, WIVB Channel 4,and WGRZ, Channel 2.

We call on the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to perform a full investigation of the incident. We are calling on state and federal agencies to determine the cause of the tunnel collapse, risks posed to workers, and risks posed to the surrounding community.

If you live or work in the area and are noticing dark smoke or odors coming from the facility, submit a complaint to the New York Department of Conservation by calling 851-7000 or completing and mailing in this complaint form.

We will keep you posted as this situation progresses.

Final City of Budget Public Hearing!

This past January, hundreds of residents went to City Hall for City Budget Public Engagement day to tell the Common Council how Buffalo should spend its $500 million dollar City Budget.

Buffalo residents will have  final public hearing to hold the Common Council accountable to the demands of city residents. Common Council can approve, deny, or re-assign funds for the 2018 City Budget.

To hold Common Council accountable to your community needs, we need you to be at the final public hearing!


Thank You to This Year’s Annual Dinner Sponsors!


We are excited to announce Clean Air’s 9th Annual Dinner Sponsorship Partners. We are grateful to have the support of so many incredible businesses and organizations. Together, we will ensure that Western New York continues to strive for healthy, just and equitable communities.



Eagle Hawk


Collins & Collins Attorneys, LLC


Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO

Roswell Park Cancer Institute – Tobacco Free Erie Niagara

The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies

David Feuerstein & Family

M&T Bank

Austin Air

Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC – Attorneys at Law

Gallagher Printing, Inc.


Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO

Dolce Panepinto Attorneys at Law

Heart of the City Neighborhoods Incorporated

Allen Street Consulting


Roswell Park Department of Diversity

Coalition for Economic Justice


Buffalo Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Hip Gypsy

Western New York Council for Occupational Safety and Health

Kenmore Teacher’s Association, NYSUT, AFL-CIO

Block Club

Congressman Brian Higgins

Make Communities

Buffalo Teachers Federation, Inc.

Citizen Action of New York

Hover Networks

Teamsters Local No.264

Communications Workers of America Local 1122 AFL-CIO

University at Buffalo Department of English

Communications Workers of America Local 1168, AFL-CIO

Clean Air Board of Directors

Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Towne Auto

Civil Service Employees Association Western Region 6

PUSH Green


Comprehensive Rehabilitation Consultants, Inc.

Kenmore Garden Club

Delta Sonic

Lexington Co-operative Market

Try-It Distributing

Anderson’s Frozen Custard

Congratulations to our 2018 Golden Gas Mask Award Winners!

The Golden Gas Mask Award honors people that have exemplified dedication and leadership in the fight for environmental health, justice and equity in Western New York.  These individuals are movement builders that have committed countless hours of their time to leading our region towards a better tomorrow. They have demonstrated a deep commitment to action on behalf of working class people and people of color, and have contributed to the development of powerful strategies to improve community health, the environment, and equity.

Mary Blue

Mary Blue resides in the Kensington neighborhood and has extensive ties to the Delavan Grider community. A friend introduced Ms. Blue to Clean Air in early 2017, and she has been a member of the American Axle Steering Committee ever since. Ms. Blue has been a valuable and tireless advocate for cleanup of American Axle, a site that has been leaking toxic PCBs and hazardous waste for over 20 years. Most of her family has lived near the site, including herself at one time, spurring her dedication to working with the community to find out what is going on with the site and demand action. As a member of the campaign, she has collected petition signatures, attended community meetings and steering committee meetings, made phone calls, and met with key decision makers in state government.  Ms. Blue is also a member of the Masten Block Club Coalition and the University District Block Club Coalition, where she has worked with teenagers, many of whom are grown up and still visit her. She is a graduate of the University at Buffalo’s Nursing School. Ms. Blue is a proud grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. In her free time, she enjoys bowling and line dancing.

Maria Tisby

Maria Tisby is a resident of the Town of Tonawanda. She was introduced to Clean Air Coalition in 2013, and has been a member ever since. Maria is a leader on Clean Air’s Tonawanda Tomorrow and Huntley Just Transition Campaign Teams. Through the opportunity to be involved in this work, she has led community actions that supported Clean Air’s various campaigns. Maria views justice as a critical element of public health and safety issues. That’s why she’s dedicated to working with Clean Air as they successfully fight for health, justice, and equity across the Western New York region.
Maria believes that one of the most important things a person can do is utilize the skills they have to be an advocate for other people. She spends much of her time educating herself about contemporaneous social justice issues that affect her neighbors, whether it’s housing, public funds, or quality of life.
Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from D’Youville College. She is a Parish Council Member and Lector at Saint Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, NY. She also serves as a Lector at Saint Amelia Church in Tonawanda. In her free time, Maria enjoys swimming as well as bicycling on the Tonawanda bike trails.

Dellla Miller

Della Miller has extensive hands on experience working with various community development projects such as, establishing food cooperatives, directing regional educational programs, and operating, consulting and managing commercial kitchens. After retiring, Ms. Della became involved in many exciting new avenues of work. She applied for and was accepted in 2014 & 2015 as a Champion of Change with One Region Forward and the UB School of Architecture and Planning. After attending their Citizen Planning School, she was inspired to find a way to share this beneficial information with others. In 2016, she was introduced to Participatory Budgeting (PB) and Clean Air Coalition, when she participated in the PB process as a community resident. The experience was so powerful, the next year she joined Clean Air’s PB Campaign Team and involved herself in all aspects of the PB planning process.  Ms. Della is a dedicated and active member in PB and is committed to promoting and educating citizens. She believes PB is a positive way for community residents to improve the quality of their neighborhoods and city. Ms. Della volunteers with several projects: St. John United Credit Union and community entrepreneurship and food service operations. Ms. Della is a graduate of Empire State College.


Join us to celebrate these fierce leaders at our Annual Dinner on May 3rd! Get your tickets here. 

Save the Date! 9th Annual Dinner May 3rd!


Nominations Open for the 2018 Annual Awards!

Each year our organization recognizes the work of our members and supporters at our Annual Dinner. Our work is based on the principle that no one can accomplish anything alone. We work with many people in many neighborhoods who deserve recognition. Who should we shine the light on this year?  Make your nomination today!