Tonawanda News

The Town

February 28, 2013

Tonawanda Coke trial kicks off

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — The federal criminal trial is a result of a 19-count indictment against Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, for allegedly violating two federal laws: the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Mango laid out those indictments for the jury during his opening arguments.

Fifteen of the 19 counts charge the defendants with violating the Clean Air Act by improperly discharging coke oven gas with an unpermitted emission source and operating two quench towers, used for cooling down the coke, without baffles to stop large particles from floating 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 indictment said.

The four remaining counts deal with the defendants’ alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, including their 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.

At the center of the government’s indictment lies the plant’s pressure relief valve, or a “bleeder,” which Mango said released benzene, a known carcinogen, into the air for varying amounts of time.

“Sometimes it was just 15 or 30 seconds ... but sometimes, it was continuous,” he said.

Mango also discussed the required baffles in the quench towers at length. 

“Evidence will show that at Tonawanda Coke, neither of the quench towers had baffles,” Mango said. 

But Linsin, and Kamholz’s attorney, Rod Personius, are expected to argue that the corporation’s use of the valve and failure to install baffles were results of exemptions in the law and exceptions given by the state DEC and the EPA. 

“The allegations in this indictment are riddled with inconsistencies,” Linsin said. “They were approved either expressly or implicitly by the DEC.” 

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