Tonawanda News

Local News

March 21, 2013

Tonawanda Coke mounts defense

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — Former state Department of Environmental Conservation official Gary Foersch testified Wednesday morning that during 15 different inspections he completed in Tonawanda Coke’s byproduct unit, he never noticed the existence of pressure relief valve that has become central to the federal case against the plant. 

When showed a picture of the so-called “bleeder,” Foersch, the defense’s first witness, admitted that the valve “appears to be an emissions source.”

”And isn’t it your job to look for emissions sources?” Rodney Personius, who is representing defendant Mark Kamholz, the plant’s environmental manager, asked Foersch.

“Yes,” Foersch responded.

In the criminal indictment against the plant, the pressure relief valve is described as an “unpermitted emissions source,” as it wasn’t listed in the company’s Clean Air Act Title V permit. The prosecution contends that the company never reported the valve’s emissions to the DEC or Environmental Protection Agency, as required by the Clean Air Act’s self-reporting statute. Government witnesses testified earlier in the federal trial that the plant wantonly emitted coke oven gas and thereby a known carcinogen, benzene, into the air through the valve. 

Personius also questioned Foersch on the plant’s alleged failure to install required environmental barriers, or baffles, in the quench towers, which are used for cooling down coke after it is burnt in the coal ovens. 

Foersch said he personally witnessed a Clean Air Act violation in one of the quench towers during an inspection, but said he couldn’t remember if the baffles were only partially installed or if there were none at all.

Foersch reminded Kamholz of the regulation during that inspection, he said. But Foersch also testified that he never checked again to confirm that the plant installed the baffles, after noting that the technology is only “rudimentary” and offers “very little reduction” in emissions. 

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