Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

March 31, 2013

Industrial plant guilty of criminal pollution

TONAWANDA, N.Y. — A federal jury has returned a nationally-significant verdict against a local industrial plant that a citizens group insisted had been deceptively polluting the town’s air and ground for years with toxic chemicals.

Tonawanda Coke Corp. and its environmental controls manager, Mark L. Kamholz,  were found guilty on 14 of 19 criminal charges. The jury separately found Karnholz guilty of obstruction of justice for covering up the pollution during plant inspections.

The company, which produces the coal-based additive coke used in making steel, and Kamholz face possible fines of more than $200 million. Kamholz could be sentenced up to 75 years in prison.

Federal officials said it was only the second criminal prosecution under the national Clear Air Act. A slew of civil lawsuits remain active.

The trial lasted four weeks and featured damaging testimony from workers, including the plant manager, as well as residents. It took the jury only 5 1/2 hours to reach its sweeping verdict on Thursday. Sentencing is scheduled for July 15.

“It is a tremendous verdict for the United States and the community,” said prosecutor Aaron Mango. “They put materials into the air that shouldn’t have been in the air, and they dumped hazardous waste onto the ground that shouldn’t have been on the ground.”

U.S. Attorney William Hochul said that given the circumstances of the plant’s violations, “it would be hard to imagine a more callous disregard for the health and well being of the citizens of this community.”

Improbably, the plant is located only a few miles from the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N. Y., where contamination left by a chemical company forced the evacuation of scores of families in the late 1970s and resulted in the modern environmental movement to clean up hazardous sites.

The effort to stop the air and ground pollution at Tonawanda Coke started nearly a decade ago in the living rooms of residents living near the plant in this blue-collar suburb north of Buffalo.

They were experiencing burning eyes and throats, leading to concerns about the foul odors and health risks.

Then, in 2005, an activist leader, Jackie James-Creedon, heightened the resistance to the plant by creating  the Clean Air Coalition, which petitioned state and federal environmental agencies to get involved. They did, and investigations confirmed that unhealthy concentrations of the carcinogen benzene were being released into the air and toxic sluge into the ground.

In December of 2009, federal agents raided the plant, seizing 36 boxes of documents and taking photos of the plant’s conditions, all of which were entered as proof of violations of federal environmental laws during the trial.

James-Creedon, the Erin Brokovich of the neighborhood crusade, said the jury’s verdict not only celebrated the group’s effort but also sent a powerful message to industrial plants throughout the nation that “the onus is on them” to operate within the law or face the consequences.

Erin Henry, director of the Clean Air Coalition, praised the U.S. Justice Department for pursuing criminal charges against Tonawanda Coke and its environmental officer, saying prosecutors “worked their butts off to make this day possible. We now feel vindicated; we feel like government can work sometimes.”

Details for this story were provided by the Tonawanda, N.Y., News.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palest_Rich copy.jpg UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP00072403324 copy.jpg Today in History for Friday, July 25, 2014

    Today is Friday, July 25, the 206th day of 2014. There are 159 days left in the year.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rebels release train with bodies from downed jet

    Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

    July 22, 2014

  • Gaza death toll rises as truce effort intensifies

    A high-level attempt by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to end deadly Israel-Hamas fighting was off to a rough start Monday: Gaza’s Hamas rulers signaled they won’t agree to an unconditional cease-fire, Israel’s prime minister said he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep Israelis safe from Hamas attacks and the overall Palestinian death toll surpassed 560.

    July 22, 2014

  • AP110722023493 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, July 22, the 203rd day of 2014. There are 162 days left in the year.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Western Wildfires_Rich copy.jpg Helpful weather coming to Washington wildfires

    Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are forecast to descend on wildfire-stricken Washington state, helping firefighters battle flames that have been growing unfettered for a week and have covered hundreds of square miles.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History for Monday, July 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, July 21, the 202nd day of 2014. There are 163 days left in the year.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit_Rich(1) copy.jpg Film, TV legend James Garner, reluctant hero, dies

    Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.
    James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results