Tonawanda Coke cleanup plan raises concerns

May 26, 2017

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is going to allow Tonawanda Coke to burn hazardous waste. That's raising concerns among neighbors who have been dealing with the convicted polluter for years.

Credit WBFO News file photo

Tonawanda Coke was found guilty in criminal court of eleven counts of violating the Clean Air Act in 2013. Investigators found the company's River Road site contaminated with cyanide, benzene, pyrene, naphthalene and various heavy metals.

"And the way they're going to get rid of that waste is by processing it inside of the Tonawanda Coke coke ovens," said Brian Borncamp, an organizer with the Clean Air Coalition. The organization has spent years working with people living near the River Road plant.

"This past December we were able to celebrate that there was a 92 percent reduction of benzene in Tonawanda. And that reduction was due to resident organizing and demanding enforcement actions against Tonawanda Coke. And so there's a concern that ten years of hard work, by Tonawanda residents, may be rendered irrelevant," Borncamp said.

Credit Clean Air

A state health department study conducted four years ago, found elevated levels of certain cancers and birth defects in neighborhoods near the facility. But Borncamp said the DEC has not notified residents about the clean up process.

"It's unclear to us, specifically, how DEC will be determining what they're extracting from the site and how they'll be grading materials to put into the coke ovens. And how they'll be monitoring the materials that they add to the coke ovens from the hazardous waste site. But those are the kinds of questions residents want answers to. But without a public hearing it's difficult for them to get those answers," Borncamp said.

The Clean Air Coalition is calling on DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos to delay the clean up until residents's questions can be addressed. The DEC responded to WBFO's interview requests with a written statement which said, the "Interim Remedial Measure includes stringent monitoring requirements and strong oversight from DEC."