Soil testing finds toxicity near Tonawanda Coke plant

Mar 4, 2014

A large crowd of neighbors to the Tonawanda Coke plant were told Monday night there needs to be more testing for pollutants in the soil and water around the plant. When the company is sentenced March 19, the judge is being asked to order a $700,000 study.

The auditorium of the Sheridan-Parkside Community Center was packed for a mixed session on new soils testing and to hear from the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Using a group of young people, the Citizen Science Community Resources group did some soil testing and found much higher level of toxic particulates around the coke plant than in more distant suburbs.

A large crowd came out Tuesday night to hear about issues related to Tonawanda Coke.
Credit Mike Desmond/WBFO News

David Velazquez II used to work in Tonawanda Coke and says he wasn't surprised about dirt.

"At Tonawanda Coke, 20 minutes before your shift was over, you were allowed to go take a shower, paid for. First time ever, a company tells you leave that uniform there, [leave] your stuff there, and go take a shower. So, it's like leave that work behind. Now, looking back I could see why, with the benzene and a lot of the chemicals," he says.

Velazquez says he knew nothing about the criminal behavior demonstrated in the trial which found the company and environmental manager Mark Kamholz guilty. He faces years in prison and the company faces tens of millions of dollars in in fines.

One man who lives nearby, Tom Ryan, said both he and his wife have cancer and claimed his house is worthless because of Tonawanda Coke.

An air quality study has already found serious pollution around the plant.

"It's gotten so bad that I literally got a trailer so I could get away in the summertime for three of four days out of the week, just to get away from this air," neighbor Ron Meegan said.

EPA is asking sentencing Judge William Skretny to assign much of the potential fine to local uses, including $700,000 for the soil and water study.