Tonawanda News

The Town

March 5, 2014

DEC: Tonawanda Coke violated law in explosion

Tonawanda News — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued two notices of violation to Tonawanda Coke following a fire and loud explosion that occurred at the River Road plant Jan. 31.

The notices, dated Feb. 26, inform owner J.D. Crane that the coal-burning plant violated two articles of New York environmental conservation law by failing to report the release of a hazardous substance and failing to maintain its equipment. 

The explosion at the River Road facility occurred at 11:51 a.m. Witnesses, some several miles away, said they heard a loud boom and saw a large black plume of smoke coming from the facility, which burns coal to produce coke — an ingredient in the steel-making process.

The blast was the result of over-pressurization of the coke oven gas system, which caused the manifold, which supplies gas for combustion in the ovens, to rupture, the agency’s investigation revealed. Coke oven gas was released and then ignited.

DEC Regional Engineer James Strickland’s letter to Crane and other plant officials stated that the plant must report the release of a hazardous substance to the state agency’s hotline within two hours if the release causes a fire, explosion, a breach of air or water quality standards or the release of gas that could cause an illness. 

The plant notified the National Response Center at 6:05 p.m. — more than six hours after the incident. The national center then notified the DEC at 6:10 p.m. 

“TCC did not report the release of hazardous substances ... including, but not limited to, benzene and naphthalene to the department’s Spill Hotline within two hours of the release,” the letter states. 

The DEC discovered the second violation while conducting its investigation on Feb. 5. Staff confirmed that a valve air line was frozen at the time of the explosion.

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