Tonawanda Coke and Manager Found Guilty, Faces 75 Years in Prison

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 6:57 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Tonawanda Coke and Manager Found Guilty, Faces 75 Years in Prison

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 6:57 PM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y.– U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. and Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno, of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, announced today that a federal jury in Buffalo has convicted the Tonawanda Coke Corporation of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

In addition, Tonawanda Coke Environmental Control Manager, Mark Kamholz, 65, of West Seneca, was found guilty of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act, one count of obstruction of justice and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

According to attorneys, the offenses related to the release of coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve. In addition, a coke-quenching tower was operated without baffles, a pollution control device required by TCC’s Title V Clean Air Act permit designed to reduce the particulate matter that is released into the air during coke quenches.

In addition, prior to an inspection conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April of 2009, defendant Kamholz told another TCC employee to conceal the fact that the unreported pressure relief valve, during normal operations, emitted coke oven gas directly into the air, in violation of the TCC’s operating permit.

The company also stored, treated and disposed of hazardous waste without a permit to do so, in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. AUSA Mango and Senior Trial Attorney Piaggione stated that these offenses related to TCC’s practice of mixing its coal tar sludge, a listed hazardous waste that is toxic for benzene, on the ground in violation of hazardous waste regulations.

“Protecting the health and safety of our residents is one of the most paramount responsibilities of this office,” said Hochul. “Citizens of this community are entitled to breathe clean air and drink clean water. From the evidence of this case, where literally hundreds of tons of coke oven gas containing benzene was released into the atmosphere and significant quantities of hazardous waste containing benzene were left out in the open, it would be hard to imagine a more callous disregard for the health and well being of the citizens of this community. Considering the nominal costs required to install safety devices and other equipment that would have alleviated these toxic hazards, the conduct was especially egregious.”

“The Tonawanda Coke Corporation and Mr. Kamholz intentionally deceived federal regulators by concealing the company's violations of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, which were enacted by Congress to protect human health and the environment," said Moreno. "The conviction of the corporate and individual defendants on almost all of the counts charged is a just and fair result that will benefit the people of Buffalo, New York."

Sentencing is scheduled for July 15th. The charges carry a maximum combined penalty up to 75 years in prison and fines in excess of $200 million.