EPA Takes Tonawanda Coke to Task for Additional Environmental Issues

In its ongoing efforts to require Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC) to comply with environmental regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the manufacturer to comply with its Clean Water Act permit.

Among other violations, TCC is discharging industrial wastewater containing cyanide in excess of its permit limits into the town of Tonawanda’s sanitary sewer system, which ultimately discharges into the Niagara River from the town’s wastewater treatment facility. EPA is also ordering TCC to properly monitor and treat the wastewater that results from the coke-making process. Under EPA’s order, TCC is required to complete the overdue installation of pollution controls, improve monitoring and provide additional information about operations at the facility.

In 2009, EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) conducted a comprehensive series of inspections of the Tonawanda Coke facility to determine its compliance with federal laws and regulations. The agencies found:

  • significantly degraded and leaking pipes and storage tanks,
  • inadequate treatment of polluted stormwater runoff,
  • multiple leaks of tar and process wastewater, and
  • substantial corrosion of a tank meant to contain "weak liquor," a toxic by-product of the coke process that contains ammonia, cyanide and naphthalene.

As a result of those findings, on Dec. 17, 2009, the federal agency ordered the company to repair its wastewater pipes, replace its corroded tank, immediately stop unpermitted discharges, and adopt other practices to remedy and prevent violations of the Clean Water Act.

More than six months later, TCC has completed some work, including replacing its corroded tank, but it has still not fully complied with the December 2009 order and has reported continued and additional violations of the pollution limits set in its industrial user permit. EPA is issuing a new administrative order requiring TCC to complete the outstanding measures required by the original order, perform additional repairs and improvements, better monitor its processes and effluent, and provide additional information to EPA and DEC.

Under this new order, TCC must comply with the original administrative order, certify in writing which of the items have been corrected, and complete all outstanding items. In addition, TCC must comply with the cyanide limits in its permit, improve its best management practices, install a flowmeter for process wastewater in the correct location, conduct additional auditing to identify any cross connections between process and non-process wastewater sewers, certify that no process wastewater is getting into the cooling and storm systems, install a coal pile runoff treatment system to ensure compliance with effluent limits and ensure that the required pollution controls are in fact installed and working properly.

On another front, EPA is insisting that TCC take immediate steps to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act and New York State’s air pollution plan. The facility recently completed required air testing and results are forthcoming. The company has also violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the improper handling of its coal tar sludge, a hazardous waste and EPA will ensure that these violations are also corrected. Under the terms of a follow-up agreement, TCC has agreed to remove four damaged tar storage tanks and contaminated soil, cease to dump and mix tar sludge inappropriately and properly recycle or dispose of associated materials. The agency is also following up on its recent requirement under the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause, that TCC investigate and fix recent mishaps that took place at the facility due to power and equipment failures.

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