Higgins wants investigation into Tonawanda Coke incident

Congressman Brian Higgins is calling for a full investigation into last Friday’s explosion at Tonawanda Coke.

The plant said the incident was minor, but the State Department of Environmental Conservation called the explosion “significant.” Higgins fear history may be repeating itself.

“We really need to know what’s going on here,” he said.

The congressman is asking the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA to investigate what happened last Friday at around noon at the coke plant on River Road. The explosion shook nearby homes and business.

Dino Scrivani said, “All of a sudden, a loud boom happened and all of our dust came off of our ceiling.”

Joyce Hogenjamp said, “I felt the house shake.”

Tonawanda Coke plant manager Mike Durbin told News 4 there was a minor explosion and fire inside, but that a safety valve had acted properly and there was no danger.

Higgins retorted, “There was a major incident where first responders showed up and really were denied access and told that the situation was under control.”

The DEC went to the scene and reported that an over pressurization caused coke oven gas to build up and ignite an explosion, damaging the bench area of the coke ovens. The DEC believes no spills occurred, but called the event significant. The DEC continues to investigate.

“So you know DEC is involved, we’re going to ask the EPA and Department of Labor to also do an investigation,” Higgins said.

Tonawanda Coke produces and sells pieces of foundry coke, which other plants burn in blast furnaces to make iron. Last March, a jury convicted Tonawanda Coke’s former Environmental Control Manager of violating the Clean Air Act.

Higgins said, “Again, there is a history of Tonawanda Coke, in that area releasing benzene into the atmosphere, which is a cancer causing agent. Given the history of Tonawanda Coke in that neighborhood, it raises a lot of questions.”

As for those benzene releases in previous years, a judge is still determining how many millions of dollars in fines Tonawanda Coke will have to pay. The former environmental control manager is scheduled for sentencing March 19th.

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