People who work and live near Tonawanda Coke on River Road heard and felt an explosion shortly before noon on Friday.
Police received numerous calls and fire companies responded to the scene. Company officials say the explosion was caused by a safety valve activation due to a buildup of oven gas in a coke oven. There was a small fire in the facility, but it was quickly contained.
Dino Scrivani works near the plant. He said, “We were getting everything set up, and all of a sudden a loud ‘boom’ happened, and all of our dust came off our ceiling, down to the ground. It sounded like somebody dropped a bunch of bowling balls on our ceiling.”
Joyce Hogenkamp, president of Citizens United for Justice, also heard the blast.
“And then all of a sudden, I felt the house shake. And the whole, my windows… This is the first my windows haven’t had the shades down on them, so they really shook,” she said.
And though Tonawanda Coke officials say the valve worked as designed and there were no injuries., people who live in the community no longer believe anything the company says, including City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis. Last March, a jury convicted Tonawanda Coke of violating the Clean Air Act. Friday’s explosion has neighbors afraid and thinking, ‘Here we go again.’
“How much benzene, ammonia, and tar emissions got thrown up in the air today? We need air quality monitoring right now,” Hogenkamp said.
Davis along with the Clean Air Coalition are calling for an immediate investigation by the EPA, DEC and OSHA. Davis has also asked the DEC to check the air monitoring stations located on Brookside Terrace and Grand Island Boulevard.
Davis said, “It’s my job to care for those people, and to be their voice. So I’m going to continue to squawk until I’m satisfied with the result I get.”
No one was injured in the explosion and the plant resumed normal operations on Friday.