Tonawanda News

The Town

March 29, 2013

Thursday's verdict years in the making for citizen activists

(Continued)

TOWN OF TONAWANDA —

Just months after the negative publicity in October 2009, Crane granted his only interview and tour of the plant to former Tonawanda News reporter Daniel Pye. In that interview, and in an exhaustive two-day series, Crane said he had worked to reduce emissions at the plant, and didn't believe his company posed a significant health risk.

"I've been around coke plants all my life," he said. "I have 125 people here who all work 40 hours a week and hardly any of them fall over. We're all at least as healthy as any average person out there."

He pointed to traffic back-ups at the south Grand Island bridges and the dozens of other businesses in the area as contributing to the problem.

Two months later on Dec. 17, 2009, federal agents raided the plant in execution of a criminal search warrant. They seized 36 boxes of documents and took photos of the plant's conditions, many of which were entered as proof of the violations in the federal trial. 

Weeks after the criminal search warrant, Kamholz was arrested, and in July 2010, the grand jury delivered an indictment charging Kamholz and the plant with 20 federal crimes — one of which dropped prior to the trial's start. 

Health study foreshadows trial outcome

The plant later signed a consent order with the EPA agreeing to make a series of changes at the plant in order to reduce benzene emissions, and by the fall of 2011, the DEC released a report indicating that benzene in the air had been reduced by 86 percent.

Many organizers declared victory, but didn't stop campaigning against the plant. Their worries were further vindicated in February when a state Department of Health study was released indicating statistically significant elevated rates of cancer among residents living in the industrial corridor. And although the DOH couldn't clearly identify a source for the problems, many continued to blame Tonawanda Coke. 

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