Company officials described an explosion two weeks ago at Tonawanda Coke as “minor” and claimed no one was injured. But two employees did suffer injuries in the blast.
The explosion took place on January 31 at the plant on River Road. The explosion was enough to shake nearby homes and businesses. Company officials said no one was injured but News 4 learn Tuesday that was not the case.
OSHA says two employees suffered minor injuries in the blast and required first aid. OSHA is investigating the explosion.
News 4 reached out to Tonawanda Coke for an explanation, but we have not heard back. Their press release from January 31 stated “most importantly, no one was hurt in the incident.” And again in a release from February 5, the company again stated no one was injured by the explosion or fire.
Company officials say it was caused by extremely cold temperatures that “caused an air-line to freeze, and a blockage to form in a gas line.” The blockages caused a buildup of pressure of coke oven gas, and eventually lead to the explosion. A small fire burned for around 12 minutes before being extinguished by on-site operators.
Though the company says the explosion was “minor,” the State DEC called it “significant.” Local politicians and activists are calling for a full investigation, Congressman Brian Higgins among them.
“Do you really think that Tonawanda Coke didn’t know that five days after the event when they issued a statement? Why again would the company say there were no injuries when in fact there were two injuries?” Higgins questioned.
The congressman says he is fed up with Tonawanda Coke, which was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act last year and is facing up to $200 million dollars in fines.
Higgins said, “This is a pattern that exists with Tonawanda Coke and their communications strategy with the community: it’s to mislead people. The night of the incident, first responders, including the police, responded and were not let onto the property. They were met at the gate and they were detained at the gate.”
“I think there are a lot of questions here that Tonawanda Coke has to answer for.”