Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — Although official proceedings won’t begin for a few more weeks, United States attorneys and lawyers representing Tonawanda Coke faced off for the first time in federal court Wednesday morning.
The plant, which is located on River Road in the town and produces a coal-based additive that is used to make steel, has come under fire in recent years from the Clean Air Coalition and some 20 civil suits from individuals that allege the company’s environmental hazards have caused illness and serious disease.
But the recent pre-trial proceedings were a matter of federal criminal charges, not civil, and are a result of a grand jury indictment against the corporation and the plant’s environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, who was in attendance Wednesday.
According to the document, 15 of the 20 counts charge the defendants with violating the Clean Air Act by emitting coke oven gas with an unpermitted emission source and operating two quench towers without baffles, which stop large particles being emitted into the air.
The 16th count charges the defendants with obstruction of justice, “relating to the defendants’ role in concealing the emission of coke oven gas from government regulators during an inspection.”
The four remaining counts deal with the defendant’s alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, including their alleged unpermitted storage of hazardous waste next to two large deteriorating coal tanks, the unpermitted disposal of hazardous waste, as well as prohibited treatment and disposal of waste.
Wednesday, Aaron Mango and Rocky Piaggione, for the U.S. government, and Gregory Linsin, for Tonawanda Coke, argued before William Skretny, chief United States district judge, on what will and won’t be admitted as evidence when the trial commences on Feb. 26.
Much of the discussions dealt with the admissibility of a chemical test that reportedly shows a high level of benzene, a known carcinogen, near Tonawanda Coke’s plant on River Road.