TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) - After years of complaints by Western New York residents, Tonawanda Coke has been found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act.
The company and its executive in charge of environmental compliance, Mark Kamholz, faced 19 felony counts, most surrounding violations of the Clean Air Act. As recently as 2009, benzene levels outside the plant were reportedly 75 times higher than state and federal guidelines.
Prosecutors say the company released benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve and operated a coke-quenching tower without baffles, a pollution control device. In addition, in April of 2009, Kamholz instructed an employee to conceal the valve prior to an inspection by the EPA.
The company also stored, treated and disposed of hazardous waste without a permit and mixed a coal tar sludge, a listed hazardous waste, directly on the ground.
For nearly four weeks, jurors heard testimony from experts and around 30 witnesses, including many former Tonawanda Coke employees. It took jurors five hours to deliberate and find the company and Kamholz guilty of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Kamholz was also found guilty of obstructing justice and could face up to 75 years in prison. Neither he or his attorney had any comment as they left court on Thursday.
The company could face million of dollars in fines. The maximum penalty would be $50,000 per day for a 12-year period, or $219,000,000.
"It's a tremendous verdict for the United States, our client, and the community," said Assistant District Attorney Aaron Mangos. "This verdict sends a message that this company violated environmental laws, they put materials into the air that shouldn't have been in the air, and dumped hazardous material onto the ground."
Sentencing will not be until July 15 and there is a broad range of penalties the judge could impose.
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