Tonawanda Coke has been in the news a lot lately. It's in court cases with the state and federal governments about illegally emitting toxic and poisonous amounts of gas in the Tonawandas and Grand Island. Most recently, investigations are underway to determine if criminal charges should be pressed following a power outage that led to, what the company calls, a controlled burn, that released more toxins in the air.
During all of this a 7 Eyewitness News viewer had a simple yet important question: what actually is Tonawanda Coke and what does it do?
Here's the answer.
Tonawanda Coke essentially makes a type of coal called coke. It's made by heating coal in the absence of oxygen. Coke is primarily used for smelting iron ore. In other words, it's used for extracting pure iron from rocks for industrial purposes.
As a result of the manufacturing process, a toxic by-product is emitted as smoke. There are lots of chemicals in that smoke, but the one that is most concerning is called benzene. According to the CDC, if you are exposed to enough benzene, you're at greater risk of developing leukemia.
That's why Tonawanda Coke first made headlines in 2009. A DEC study showed it was emitting more than the legal limit of benzene, among other pollutants, in the air. In 2013, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act rom 2005 to 2009.
In 2016, a new air quality study from the DEC showed the amount of pollutants, including benzene, that Tonawanda Coke was emitting had been reduced by 92 percent. That's still above the legal limit, though.
This past July, the DEC issued a cease and desist order. Tonawanda Coke is appealing that decision.