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Feds Charge Tonawanda Coke with Environmental Crimes | News

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Feds Charge Tonawanda Coke with Environmental Crimes
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Tonawanda Coke Corporation and its Environmental Control Manager Mark Kamholz are charged with 20 federal crimes; most of them are violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says the violations happened during a five year period beginning in 2004.

Five of the charges are alleged to be related to the release of coke oven gas into the air that contained benzene, a human carcinogen known to cause leukemia, damage to bone marrow and excessive bleeding.

People who live by the plant have been complaining of air quality and high cancer rates for years.

"There are a lot of people I know up and down the street that have breathing problems or respitory problems", said Joseph Waschensky, who lives near the plant.

People like Tom Ryan.

"I've had skin cancer on my left hand," said Ryan, who also lives near the plant. "My wife has breast cancer."

Ryan showed 2 On Your Side his grape vines that he says are sometimes covered in soot.

"You can see all the leaves where they've been hit on the top," he said.

Ryan thinks the charges are not enough.

"They're getting their hands slapped," he said. "They don't ever correct it."

But the U.S. Attorney says the Environmental Protection Agency did check-up on the plant for ongoing inspections. But one charge in the indictment says Kamholz instructed an employee to conceal a valve used to release coke gas into the atmosphere during an EPA inspection.

As of now, U.S. Attorney Bill Hochul says the plant is in compliance with most federal and state environmental standards.

"The other aspect of a sentence in federal criminal court is there will be a period of supervision and it will not permit any defendant to go back to doing what they were doing before," said Hochul.

The charges also include four counts of storing, treating and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit.

Both Kamholz and a representative for the Coke plant will be in federal court on Tuesday. If convicted, Kamolz could face $250-thousand in fines and five years jail time for each count.
Tonawanda Coke could face $500-thousand in fines for each count.

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