New concerns with Tonawanda Coke plant after waste tunnel partially collapses


The Tonawanda Coke plant is in hot water again. This time after a waste tunnel collapsed. Some people say that those living near the plant could be breathing in toxic chemicals.

“What caused this collapse of the tunnel, and determine what risks there are to workers at the plant and people living in the surrounding community,” said Brian Borncamp, community organizer with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

Brian Borncamp says he’s concerned there could be more toxic emissions from the Tonawanda Coke Corporation on River Road, after part of a waste tunnel collapsed.

“The concern is that they can’t regulate the heat appropriately and they can’t regulate fresh air coming to into the ovens appropriately,” said Borncamp.

Tonawanda Coke says it discovered the partial collapse this spring. In a statement to News 4, the company says, “some of the fallen debris has created a dam that would not allow water to travel out of the tunnel and restricted air flow.”

A rep says they’ve been working to remove that debris.

Tonawanda Coke was convicted about five years ago for violating the Clean Air Act and in 2017 the company was ordered to pay for a soil study to see how far pollution from the plant has spread.

“Our concern is that this represents a possible risk to public health and the environment,” said Borncamp.

This collapse is a new risk, one that Borncamp wants the State Department of Environmental Conservation to look into. Right now, it’s not clear if there’s an air quality issue, but the DEC is investigating.

DEC says in a statement to News 4 that it’s “reviewing data from nearby air monitors. While DEC’s investigation is ongoing, our current assessment is that this incident is contributing to the excess smoke that has been observed from the waste heat stack.”

DEC says after a settlement, it required extensive repairs and improvements to the plant — including repairs to the coke ovens.

Borncamp tells News 4 he hopes DEC will report their findings to the community.

Tonawanda Coke says it plans to have the debris from the tunnel cleaned up by next week.

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