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EPA and DEC Report Progress at Tonawanda Coke Corporation; Announce New Commitments in Tonawanda Community -- Benzene Emissions Cut by at least Two-thirds

Release Date: 07/20/2011
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov; Michael Basile (646) 369-0055, basile.michael@epa.gov

(Buffalo, N.Y.) In a continuing effort to protect public health and the environment in Western New York, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director Abby Snyder announced progress in their agencies’ investigation of the Tonawanda Coke Corporation and launched a new community-wide effort to reduce pollution in the community. Under agreements reached this week between EPA, NYSDEC and the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, the company will improve its operations and monitoring for coke oven gas leaks, repair equipment and upgrade pollution controls. Combined with previous actions taken to reduce harmful benzene emissions from the facility, these actions will slash benzene emissions by at least two-thirds.

In addition, EPA announced today that it will provide a $130,000 pollution prevention grant to the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute to lend technical assistance to businesses in Tonawanda, NY to conduct detailed environmental assessments of their manufacturing processes and improve operations in a way that significantly reduces their impact on the environment. EPA is also awarding a $100,000 Community Action for a Renewed Environment grant to the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York to work with the Tonawanda community in prioritizing environmental risks and concerns that the community wants to address.

Tonawanda’s industrial zone has one of the highest concentrations of air polluting facilities in the state. Within a two-mile area, the town has 53 facilities, including a coke plant, two petroleum distribution terminals, multiple chemical bulk storage terminals, a coal-burning power plant, a tire manufacturing plant and two interstate highways.

EPA and the NYSDEC are conducting a full evaluation of the Tonawanda Coke facility to determine its compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, following NYSDEC’s community air quality monitoring study, which revealed that Tonawanda Coke was emitting high levels of benzene. As a result of that work, EPA and NYSDEC have taken several enforcement actions against the facility over the past several years, including actions under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. EPA and the state’s work continue, and will be further enhanced by the other initiatives planned and partially funded by EPA for the community.

“This is an important day for the Tonawanda community. EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s investigation of the Tonawanda Coke facility is resulting in real pollution reductions and true benefits for the surrounding community,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “EPA is also investing in this community more broadly by working with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute to implement solutions to the pollution problems affecting the people of Tonawanda.”

“Today, the Town of Tonawanda and its residents got two big wins for the environment,” Abby Snyder, Regional Director for NYSDEC said. “First, following up on DEC’s air quality study, EPA and NYSDEC reached an agreement with the Tonawanda Coke Corporation to significantly reduce benzene emissions. Second, two grant awards will give a big boost to a community-wide effort to reduce pollution. Both of these actions will help Tonawanda’s economy adapt and thrive in a new era focused on sustainability and are welcome news for the Tonawanda community.”

“It is our mission to make New York State more sustainable for workers, the environment, and the economy and we do so by partnering directly with businesses,” notes Anahita Williamson, director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. “We will use this funding to help companies reduce environmental impacts which makes them more competitive, saves them money and keeps them in New York.”

“Tonawanda is an industrial community with more than its fair share of environmental burdens and related health problems,” said Erin Heaney, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. “The Clean Air Coalition looks forward to continuing and enhancing its work in the community to solve environmental challenges.”

Under the agreements announced today, Tonawanda Coke will complete process improvements and repairs in the by-products area of the plant that will dramatically reduce toxic emissions. Specifically, the company will improve operation of the ammonia scrubber, light oil scrubber, tar precipitator, piping, process vessel vents, tar decanter, tar storage tank, and by-products gas pipes. It will install a new ammonia scrubber at the plant and modify a piece of equipment that is designed to cool the coke oven gas to condense out tars, naphthalene and other impurities.

To drive innovation and improve overall air and environmental quality in the Tonawanda area, EPA is providing the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute with a $130,000 grant to recruit and lead local businesses in a new voluntary initiative to reduce the impact they have on the environment while making their operations more efficient. To begin, the not-for-profit organization will offer technical assistance to give Tonawanda area companies a comprehensive assessment of their operations and processes. The goal is to identify cost-effective and environmentally protective operations. In the second phase of the project, the group will help the companies implement the recommended changes. The effort will focus on: minimizing waste, reducing hazardous and non-hazardous waste, water conservation, efficient use of raw materials and energy conservation. The project will include eight companies.

EPA is enhancing the community’s ability to participate in addressing environmental challenges by awarding $100,000 to the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York to lead a group of stakeholders in a process of identifying and prioritizing pollution problems in the Tonawanda community and finding ways to reduce the health and environmental risks they may pose. The Clean Air Coalition will convene and facilitate meetings with community groups, businesses and elected officials and engage experts to compile a list of local environmental hazards, including air pollution and land contamination from the industrial area, nuclear waste in the town landfill, housing issues, climate change, and other pressing issues. The Coalition will share the compiled information with stakeholders and facilitate a prioritization process. The community group will sponsor capacity building workshops, conduct basic air testing in local areas of concern and make innovative use of photography to document environmental problems.

For more information, visit EPA’s websites at:
http://www.epa.gov/CARE
http://www.epa.gov/region02/p2
http://www.epa.gov/region02/capp/TCC

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/eparegion2

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