Tonawanda News

February 4, 2014

TOWN: DEC, EPA investigating Tonawanda Coke explosion

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The state Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational and Safety Hazard Administration said they are investigating the explosion and small fire that occurred Friday morning at Tonawanda Coke. 

"Preliminary inspection of the site by DEC confirmed that a significant explosion caused damage to a portion of the plant," a statement from the DEC reads. "It appears an over-pressurization of the cokeside manifold, which supplies coke oven gas to the flues, caused the explosion."

The DEC said that no injuries or evacuations were reported, and no spills occurred as a result of the explosion. Tonawanda Coke has shut down the gas supply to the manifold and the plant is making repairs, the statement reads.

It is unknown what caused the over-pressurization of the cokeside manifold.

"DEC is continuing to investigate this issue and has not reached any conclusions regarding its cause," the statement reads.

The DEC said that it did not receive any calls from residents, but encourages those who are worried about an environmental issue to do so. During business hours, DEC can be reached at 851-7000 and is reachable 24 hours a day on its tip line at 1-800-TIPP-DEC. 

EPA Press Officer Mary Mears said the federal agency will also investigate.

"EPA is aware of the community's concern about the plant over the years and about this explosion," she said. "We are working closely with the state and looking into it." 

OSHA, which has fined the plant for violations in the past, also began an investigation Friday. The probe is ongoing, spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said. 

After Friday's explosion, the Clean Air Coalition called on the DEC, EPA and OSHA to investigate the blast. The coalition requested the agencies investigate what toxins were released and what workers were exposed to. 

"We understand the company stated this was a 'minor explosion and a small fire' but past self reporting from the company has been inaccurate and has put workers and residents at risk," Rebecca Newberry, of the Clean Air Coalition, said in the statement.

The explosion occurred at 11:54 a.m. Friday. 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. Firemen did not reach the scene of the incident.

"The plant representative met us at the guard house, and we were satisfied that they didn't need our help," Ellwood Fire Chief Gary Stuff said.

The explosion destroyed a brick wall, but the facility is reporting that no injuries occurred. Mike Durkin, of Tonawanda Coke, informed police that a small fire had occurred as a result of the explosion. Stuff said he wasn't aware of a fire, and if there was one, plant personnel extinguished it on their own.

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