Fate of Local Company in Hands of Jury

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 7:22 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 7:22 AM EDT

Tonawanda, N.Y. (WKBW) - A jury will begin deliberating a case against Tonawanda Coke, Thursday. The company is facing a 19 county indictment, accused of numerous violations including admitting the cancer causing chemical Benzene into the air.

The company, along with its Environmental Manager Mark Kamholz, could face severe punishment if found guilty. This all stems from an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. Investigators said the company covered up several violations, including a leak in a valve that sent out dangerous fumes into the air.

Those living in the surrounding area claim that air has been making them sick. The Sheridan-Parkside neighborhood is now the focus of a study, which found elevated cases of cancer, birth defects and respiratory issues.

"We think the study in a lot of ways affirmed what people that live in Tonawanda already know. We are sick, there's a lot of cancer, there's a lot of negative birth outcomes, lots of premature babies, lots of miscarriages in the Town of Tonawanda," Director of the Clean Air Coalition Erin Heaney said.

While residents have long pointed fingers at Tonawanda Coke, the health study did not pinpoint the exact cause of the cancer. Federal prosecutors said greed lead the company to knowingly poison the air for years. The defense argues the plant was unfairly targeted. They said the Department of Environmental Conservation led plant managers to believe they were in compliance, when they were not.

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