Tonawanda News

Local News

March 5, 2014

DEC: Tonawanda Coke violated law in explosion

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Tonawanda News — “The west flare is used to burn off excess coke oven gas and is critical in maintaining safe coke oven gas pressure in the system,” Regional Air Pollution Control Engineer Alfred Carlacci wrote.

Records indicated that Tonawanda Coke employees were aware that the flare required service, but did not complete the necessary maintenance. The east flare, which is used as a backup, was plugged with crystallized naphthalene, which prevented the flow of coke oven gas. 

The letter states that the plant violated state law by failing to maintain both flares. 

Both notices warn the violations carry monetary fines and other penalties. Regional Public Affairs Officer Megan Gollwitzer said Tuesday that the DEC is “continuing to investigate and evaluate enforcement options.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also investigating the explosion. 

The plant initially claimed that no injuries occurred as a result of the blast, and classified the incident as “minor.” They turned away volunteer firefighters at the plant’s guardhouse, saying employees had extinguished the blaze and no one had been injured. 

But a week later, the Town of Tonawanda facility issued a second public statement and admitted that three workers were hurt. One of the workers suffered a possible first-degree burn on his face, but returned to work the same day. The second worker who had his face covered with dust was sent to a medical facility for treatment, and another worker was blown to the ground by the blast, but didn’t require aid, the release stated. 

The plant has a contentious history. Last year, the foundry and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, were convicted of violating federal environmental pollution laws. They are scheduled to be sentenced in March, and the charges carry a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison for Kamholz and fines in excess of $200 million for the business.

The Occupational and Safety Health Administration has also fined the plant for worker injuries and violations in the past.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.

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