Environmental group seeking investigation into Tonawanda Coke blast

Feb 3, 2014

Some Town of Tonawanda residents are waiting to learn more about what caused their homes to rattle around noon Friday.

Rebecca Newberry, a community organizer with the Clean Air Coalition, says people near Tonawanda Coke called her office saying they heard a loud bang, felt their houses shake, and saw a large plume of black smoke coming from the River Road plant.

According to a statement, there was a minor explosion and small fire at the plant. Company officials say all safety systems worked as designed and the situation was quickly brought under control. No injuries were reported and the company said there was no release of toxins.

Credit File photo

Newberry says the Clean Air Coalition wants New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, the EPA and OSHA to follow up.

"It's my understanding that the company released a statement saying that it was a minor explosion, but we know that there is a track record from this company of not being honest and transparent with the community and their workers. So we're requesting that the agencies do a full investigation of what happened," Newberry tells WBFO News.

Last year, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act. The company could face up to $200 million in fines.

Rep. Brian Higgins also called for an investigation Monday, saying he is in contact with EPA and OSHA.

“The company’s past reckless practices have led to a real and justifiable mistrust by neighbors and the community as a whole,” said Higgins.  “We would like to see an investigation take place to verify that all safety procedures were properly followed and confirm that Friday’s incident had no negative impact on the environment generally or air quality for local residents specifically.”

In a written statement, the DEC said it is continuing to investigate.