Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — In opening arguments Wednesday prosecutors in federal court charged Tonawanda Coke purposely violated environmental law and then knowingly hid the plant’s defects during inspections.
“The notion of a good corporate citizen is one that values the community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango said. “And this corporation violated environmental compliance laws to enhance the bottom line.”
But during the defense’s opening statement, lawyers argued repeatedly that the two government regulatory agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, had the deck “stacked” against the plant and purposely targeted the corporation for intense scrutiny.
“No company has a perfect environmental compliance record,” said Gregory Linsin, the lawyer representing Tonawanda Coke. “But the EPA ... decided it was going to apply a different set of rules to Tonawanda Coke.”
The plant is located in the Town of Tonawanda and produces a coal-based additive, coke, that is used to make steel. The corporation has come under fire for years by a citizens’ group, the Clean Air Coalition, for its emissions. 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.
Many of the Clean Air Coalition’s concerns were validated after DEC air monitors installed in 2009 found levels of benzene in the air surrounding the plant 10 times greater than what the state says is safe. Tonawanda Coke representatives have steadfastly denied they’re the source, citing the dense industrial corridor’s dozens of other factories that could be contributing to the problem.
Still, residents have long complained of noxious odors and black soot covering their homes and property making them sick — and point the finger squarely at Tonawanda Coke as the source.
A study recently completed by the state Department of Health confirmed “statistically significant” increased rates of various types of cancer among residents living near the facility, though the study’s authors cautioned they couldn’t link the cancer rates to Tonawanda Coke or any one cause.