Buffalo, NY (WBEN/AP) Tonawanda Coke has been fined $12.5 million dollars and ordered to conduct two separate environmental studies for violating the Clean Air Act. A manager will spend a year and a day in jail.
Tonawanda Coke, along the Niagara River, and manager Mark Kamholz were convicted following a trial last year. Jurors also found Kamholz guilty of obstruction for moving to hide problems from an inspector. Kamholz was sentenced to 366 days in jail, fined $20,000, one year probation, and perform 100 hours community service.
The charges followed years of complaints from neighbors about black soot and high cancer rates. The company burns coal to produce coke, used in steel making. Tonawanda Coke's fine is one of the largest fines ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial.
“Today’s sentencing holds Tonawanda Coke and its Environmental Control Manager accountable for one of the most egregious environmental pollution crimes in this area's history,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Hochul. “As found by the jury, these defendants released hundreds of tons of poisonous, benzene-laden gas containing into the atmosphere, while also dumping additional hazardous waste out in the open. Such conduct is the equivalent to releasing known killers into the community. As expressed in citizen letters, this criminal conduct at a minimum caused substantial emotional and psychological harm, to say nothing of possible physical harm. The fact that remedial measures would have cost a small fraction of the company's multi-million dollar profits only adds to the seriousness of these crimes.”
About 20 civil suits involving more than 250 people remain pending in state court.