Tonawanda Coke Facility Under Investigation

September 27, 2013 Updated Apr 2, 2010 at 5:08 PM EDT

By Laura Gray

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September 27, 2013 Updated Apr 2, 2010 at 5:08 PM EDT

Town of Tonawanda (WKBW) -- Tonawanda residents saw flames shooting from a small stack of the Tonawanda Coke Plant Wednesday. Eyewitness News has obtained pictures of the flames from the Clean Air Coalition of WNY.

The electric motor powering an exhauster failed. Tonawanda coke switched to a backup exhauster - which also failed. The third exhauster was out of service. Because of those failures, raw coke oven gas was generated through a small stack and into the air. The coke oven gas contains benzene, ammonia, and other hazardous materials. Benzene can cause cancer.

The EPA is investigating. Regional Administrator Judith Enck says, "EPA is concerned that this incident appears to be a repeat instance of equipment failure at the Tonawanda facility... People living and working in the area deserve to feel confident that this facility is properly operated and maintained and is not causing risks to their health."

Long time Tonawanda resident Joe Suznovich lives in the house his grandfather built. It's right across the street from the plant. Over the decades, he's watched neighbors die of cancer, and seen investigators come and go with little effect. "You know what they're doing. Everyone knows what they're doing. There's only one way to stop it. Shut the plant down."

The EPA is working with the state to determine whether any federal or state environmental laws were violated. The EPA and DEC cited Tonawanda Coke for numerous environmental violations earlier this year.