EPA Warns Tonawanda Coke on CWA Violations

Federal agency leaning on foundry coke producer to address CAA and RCRA issues, too


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered New York’s Tonawanda Coke Corp. to comply with the terms of its Clean Water Act permit. It is the latest charge against the Buffalo-area merchant coke producer, which is under EPA scrutiny also for two recent incidents of coke-oven gas release, in violation of Clean Air Act standards.

Now, EPA finds that, among other violations, Tonawanda Coke is discharging industrial wastewater containing cyanide in excess of its permit limits into the local sanitary sewer system.

Also, EPA is also ordering Tonawanda Coke to properly monitor and treat the wastewater that results from the cokemaking process. The EPA order requires Tonawanda Coke to finish installing pollution controls, improve monitoring, and provide more information about operations at the plant.

Tonawanda Coke has the same ownership as Erie Coke Corp., another merchant coke producer. Erie Coke recently agreed in a settlement to complete an extensive series of modernizations and updates to its Erie, PA, plant, and it will pay a $6-million fine in order to achieve compliance with state environmental and air-quality regulations.

In 2009, EPA and the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation carried out inspections of the Tonawanda Coke plant 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 inspectors found multiple leaks of tar and process wastewater, and substantial corrosion of a tank meant to contain a toxic by-product of cokemaking (“weak liquor”) that contains ammonia, cyanide, and naphthalene, among other pollutants. Other areas also required fixing in order to avoid leaking or spills.

On December 17, 2009, EPA ordered Tonawanda Coke 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, EPA states that some work has been completed to correct the violations, including replacing its corroded tank, but Tonawanda Coke has 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 issued a new administrative order requiring Tonawanda Coke 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.

Under this new order, Tonawanda Coke must comply with the original administrative order, certify in writing which of the items have been corrected, and complete all outstanding items. In addition, Tonawanda Coke 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.

In regard to the Clean Air Act violations, EPA is insisting that Tonawanda Coke take immediate steps to meet the requirements of the CAA and New York State’s air pollution plan. The plant recently completed required air testing and results are forthcoming, according to the agency’s statement.

EPA said Tonawanda Coke also has violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in its improper handling of its coal tar sludge, and it said it would move to ensure that these violations are also corrected. Under the terms of a follow-up agreement, the company 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 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.

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