In its ongoing efforts to require Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC) to comply with environmental regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the coke manufacturing facility to comply with its Clean Water Act permit. Among other violations, TCC is discharging industrial wastewater containing cyanide in excess of its permit limits into the town of Tonawanda’s sanitary sewer system, which ultimately discharges into the Niagara River from the town’s wastewater treatment facility. Cyanide is a toxic chemical compound, and excessive amounts may adversely impact human health, fish and wildlife. EPA is also ordering TCC to properly monitor and treat the wastewater that results from the coke-making process. Under EPA’s order, TCC is required to complete the overdue installation of pollution controls, improve monitoring and provide additional information about operations at the facility.
'Cyanide is toxic and cannot be discharged in amounts that exceed the limits specified in the facility’s permit,' said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. 'If left unchecked and uncontrolled, industrial discharges pollute the environment and may threaten public health. We will continue to work with the state to identify and get the company to rectify the many violations of various environmental laws at this facility.'
'Failure to abide by the Clean Water Act can result in chemicals and contamination reaching our waterways,' said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. 'We will continue to work with EPA to vigorously monitor Tonawanda Coke and ensure that all environmental laws are being followed.'
In 2009, EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) conducted a comprehensive series of inspections of the Tonawanda Coke facility to determine its compliance with federal laws and regulations. The agencies found that TCC was violating the Clean Water Act by allowing pipes and storage tanks to significantly degrade and leak, and by failing to provide adequate treatment of polluted stormwater runoff, resulting in illegal discharges of polluted wastewater through storm sewers that lead to the Niagara River. The agencies also found multiple leaks of tar and process wastewater, and substantial corrosion of a tank meant to contain a substance known as 'weak liquor,' a toxic by-product of the coke process that contains pollutants such as ammonia, cyanide and naphthalene. The agencies found other areas that needed to be fixed in order to avoid potentially damaging spills and leaks. As a result of those findings, on December 17, 2009, EPA ordered the company to repair its wastewater pipes, replace its corroded tank, immediately stop unpermitted discharges of its process and non-process wastewater, and adopt other practices to remedy and prevent violations of the Clean Water Act.
More than six months later, TCC has completed some work, including replacing its corroded tank, but it has still not fully complied with the December 2009 order and has reported continued and additional violations of the pollution limits set in its industrial user permit. EPA is issuing a new administrative order requiring TCC to complete the outstanding measures required by the original order, perform additional repairs and improvements, better monitor its processes and effluent, and provide additional information to EPA and NYSDEC.
EPA works with the states to establish standards that safeguard the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams. States with approved Clean Water Act programs, such as New York, then issue permits to pollution sources. Those permits require controls and contain discharge limits that protect water quality. The Clean Water Act also requires industrial facilities to obtain permits from local municipalities that contain limits on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged to local wastewater treatment plants. Discharging excessive levels of cyanide and other contaminants can damage sewage treatment facilities and lead to the discharge of improperly treated sewage into surface waters, creating a public exposure risk and harming fish and wildlife.
Under this new order, TCC must comply with the original administrative order, certify in writing which of the items have been corrected, and complete all outstanding items. In addition, TCC must comply with the cyanide limits in its permit, improve its best management practices, which are intended to control water pollution at the site, install a flow meter for process wastewater in the correct location, conduct additional auditing to identify any cross connections between process and non-process wastewater sewers, certify that no process wastewater is getting into the cooling and storm systems, install a coal pile runoff treatment system to ensure compliance with effluent limits and ensure that the required pollution controls are in fact installed and working properly.
On another front, EPA is insisting that TCC take immediate steps to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act and New York State’s air pollution plan. The facility recently completed required air testing and results are forthcoming. The company has also violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the improper handling of its coal tar sludge, a hazardous waste and EPA will ensure that these violations are also corrected. Under the terms of a follow-up agreement, TCC has agreed to remove four damaged tar storage tanks and contaminated soil, cease to dump and mix tar sludge inappropriately and properly recycle or dispose of associated materials. The Agency is also following-up on its recent requirement under the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause, that TCC investigate and fix recent mishaps that took place at the facility due to power and equipment failures.
EPA is working in close coordination with the NYSDEC on the investigations of Tonawanda Coke’s operations and efforts to bring the company into compliance with environmental laws.