Following up on last week’s charges, Erie County Legislator Michele Iannello says residents may breathe easier following the arrest of Mark L. Kamholz, the Environmental Control Manager for the Tonawanda Coke plant.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Kamholz has been charged with failing to notify government officials that levels of a hazardous substance beyond what U.S. code allows was being released into the air. The complaint against Kamholz says he knew about the emissions, but failed to notify the feds.
Recently, the DEC released a study that revealed that air samples taken from the area around Tonawanda Coke had benzene levels that were up to 75 times more than the recommended guidelines. Benzene is a proven carcinogen.
“For years, residents in my legislative district have been assaulted, yes assaulted, by toxins spewing out of Tonawanda Coke,” Iannello began. “The pollution emitted by this company fostered the community’s outrage and activism that has given rise to the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, founded by Jackie James-Creedon.
Iannello noted that, she has worked closely with the group to put pressure on the owner and other elected officials for the past two years. The Clean Air Coalition (CAC) held a rally in October where speaker after speaker expressed the community’s anger over the failure of Tonawanda Coke’s owner, JD Crane, to address their health concerns.
“Victims of Tonawanda Coke’s environmental crimes, demonstrated by Thursday’s action in federal court, have sacrificed their right to privacy and publicly revealed medical conditions that − based on family history and lifestyle ─ could have no other genesis than the poisons spewing into the air of their neighborhood,” Iannello continued. “The company failed to notify the federal government that coal tar sludge was being stored in tanks that were open to the air.”
“Plain and simple, the company broke the law ─ the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They failed to obtain permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), one can only surmise that the company was attempting to conceal its violations,” Iannello added.
“The prosecution of corporate polluters will not restore the health, or bring back to life, those who were exposed to these toxins. However, the public will see some evidence that the government agencies they have supported with their taxes will, in the end, hold the responsible parties accountable through our justice system. It is small consolation for their suffering, but it may give them hope for the future of our youth to breathe air that will not poison them,” Iannello concluded.