Tonawanda News

Local News

March 15, 2013

Official testifies on sludge

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — Flax also admitted during cross examination that plants can have accidental spillage of hazardous waste without violating the law — but said those incidents are not issues that the EPA takes lightly. 

Sludge in and around old, deteriorating tanks installed at the foundry before Tonawanda Coke owned the plant was also brought up in questioning Thursday.

During questioning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rocky Piaggione implied that because Tonawanda Coke attempted to “actively manage” the previous owner’s sludge near the tanks, the plant was responsible for the material, which contains a high level of a known carcinogen, benzene. 

Samples of the tanks’ sludge were taken, Flax said, and 20 out of 26 of the samples recorded higher levels of benzene than the EPA’s regulatory level of .05 milligrams per liter. One of the samples recorded was nearly three times the regulatory level, and was listed as .14 milligrams per liter. 

At the end of Flax’s testimony, jurors were allowed to ask questions, an unusual but likely helpful step in addressing some of the extremely technical aspects of the case.

Although the case as presented at trial is certainly dense, it largely grew out of a much simpler grassroots campaign by area residents who complained loudly for years that noxious industrial emissions were making them sick. Some 20 civil suits have been filed by individuals living near the foundry that allege the company’s environmental hazards have caused illness and serious disease. The outcome of those suits will likely be heavily impacted by jurors’ findings in the criminal proceedings.

The case, which is expected to last until the end of March, will continue Friday. So far, the prosecution has called former and current Tonawanda Coke employees, EPA officials and a state Department of Environmental Conservation engineer to testify. 

Ron Snyder, a former plant superintendent who has been outspoken about the company’s environmental hazards, is scheduled to testify Friday. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150

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