Tonawanda News

The City

February 19, 2014

Council supports explosion probe

Tonawanda News — The City of Tonawanda Common Council passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting the request for a full investigation of the Tonawanda Coke explosion to be completed.

“There was an explosion ... due to a failure of pressure release safety valves to properly disperse gases which accumulated in the exhaust house and were eventually ignited causing significant damage to the facility as well as potential injury to the health, safety and welfare of city residents,” the resolution states.

The explosion at the River Road facility occurred on Jan. 31. Witnesses said they heard a loud boom and saw a large black plume of smoke coming from the coal-burning facility.

Ellwood and Kenmore fire departments reported to the plant, located at 3875 River Road in the Town of Tonawanda. Plant officials told the fire chiefs that an explosion had occurred due to a buildup of pressure. Firefighters did not reach the scene of the incident.

In a statement released after the blast, Tonawanda Coke explained that cold weather led to the freezing of an air line and the blockage of a gas line — which caused the explosion. The plant also initially claimed that no injuries occurred as a result of the blast, and classified the incident as “minor.”

But a week later, the Town of Tonawanda facility issued a second 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 on 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.

Local politicians and environmental organizations have been pressing for a full probe to be completed, and for the results to be released to the public. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are all investigating the incident.

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