DEC: Explosion at Tonawanda Coke was 'significant'

TONAWANDA, NY - An explosion and fire at Tonawanda Coke on Friday rattled nearby houses - and the nerves of neighborhood residents.

Our partners at Investigative Post have been following developments and environmental reporter Dan Telvock tells us statements issued by the company and Town of Tonawanda Friday afternoon said a small explosion and fire occurred about noon. The town's statement said the incident caused no damage.

But these statements contradict what the state Department of Environmental Conservation found later in the day.

The DEC said its preliminary investigation confirmed there was a "significant explosion" that caused a fire and that there was damage to the plant.

Nearby residents said the explosion was strong enough to shake their houses. They also spotted a plume of black smoke that turned gray and disappeared.No one was injured in the blast, which officials said was the result of a build up of oven gas in a coke oven that activated a safety valve.

Several sources reported that some emergency responders were barred entry into the plant. Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Carauana said he was told some responders were initially denied access to the property.

Nevertheless, the police department said Ellwood Fire Chief Jim Stuff talked with plant employees and was "satisfied" with Tonawanda Coke's response to the incident.

Friday afternoon, the Clean A-r Coalition called on the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to conduct an investigation to the determine the cause of the blast and what toxins workers and residents were potentially exposed to.

Rebecca Newberry, a community organizer for the coalition, said Tonawanda Coke has a checkered past and hasn't been honest or transparent about its operations. Those problems resulted in numerous federal convictions last year for Tonawanda Coke because it was releasing excessive amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, endangering plant workers and nearby residents. Its plant manager faces jail time and the company millions in fines.

On Saturday, we reached out to Tonawanda Coke officials, the Town of Tonawanda and first responders to hear what they had to say about the disparity between their reports and the DEC's but no one returned our calls.


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