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Tonawanda Coke exec faces long prison term

Keywords: Tags  merchant coke, Tonawanda Coke, Mark Kamholz, Erie Coke, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Environmental Protection Agency, William Hochul Ignacia Moreno

PITTSBURGH — An executive at Tonawanda Coke Corp. faces up to 75 years in prison and fines in excess of $200 million after a jury found him guilty of breaking environmental laws.

Mark L. Kamholz, environmental control manager at the Tonawanda, N.Y.-based merchant coke maker, was convicted on 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as well as one count of obstruction of justice by instructing an employee to conceal from inspectors an unreported pressure relief valve that emitted coke-oven gas directly into the air.

He is scheduled to be sentenced July 15.

"From the evidence of this case, where literally hundreds of tons of coke-oven gas containing benzene were released into the atmosphere and significant quantities of hazardous waste containing benzene were left out in the open, it would be hard to imagine a more callous disregard for the health and well-being of the citizens of this community," U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.

The jury also convicted Tonawanda Coke of storing, treating and disposing of toxic waste without a permit and illegally mixing coal tar sludge on the ground.

"Tonawanda and Kamholz intentionally deceived federal regulators by concealing the company’s violations of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which were enacted by Congress to protect human health and the environment," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division.

Neither Kamholz nor Tonawanda Coke could be reached for comment.

The company is facing class-action lawsuits from residents concerned about their health and property values, according to a spokeswoman for the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

Tonawanda Coke’s sister plant, Erie, Pa.-based Erie Coke Corp., came under scrutiny but was able to reach a settlement, paying a $300,000 penalty and agreeing to gain compliance with federal environmental regulations (, Aug. 24, 2011).

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