Tonawanda Coke: Reaction from vocal town resident

Cease and Desist came as no surprise to Joyce Hogenkamp

Mike Baggerman
July 22, 2018 - 3:00 am

Tonawanda Coke (WKBW Photo)

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TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WBEN) - New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation's decision to issue a cease-and-desist order to the Tonawanda Coke Corporation came to no surprise from at least one vocal Tonawanda resident.

"We believe Tonawanda Coke was one of the major contributors to us losing our mom in 2006," Joyce Hogenkamp told WBEN. 

Benzene was in Hogenkamp's mother's system. Benzene directly affects the blood and Hogenkamp's mother had to constantly receive blood transfusions and but ultimately died from congestive heart failure.

Hogenkamp described the smell in the area around the plant "horrendous", especially at night and explained that Tonawanda Coke temporarily rehabilitated the emission problems, though she noted that the smells of tar and ammonia returned in recent months. 

"It burns your nose and burns your eyes," Hogenkamp said. "People are complaining now about their eyes burning, their ears burning, their throats burning. That's all ammonia and benzene. That's all back in the air again. Tonawanda Coke is not doing what they're supposed to be doing."

Hogenkamp is one of many in a lawsuit against the plant. She said she's filed multiple complaints with the DEC, both written and over the phone.

"It smells like rubber burning," she said. "When you smell that smell, call the DEC immediately. That is Tonawanda Coke."

She wasn't surprised to hear about the cease-and-desist but thought it would have come sooner because of the collapse of the tunnel. In the past, it was debated whether the smells were caused by Tonawanda Coke or fumes from cars stuck while trying to cross the Grand Island Bridges. 

"Those tolls were blamed for a lot of it and now that they're gone there's no one to blame but Tonawanda Coke," she said. "They're the last ones standing on the hill. As far as my neighbors and the other residents of the town, city, and Grand Island, we're going to knock them off the hill until they fix what has to be fixed."

She described the coke that Toanwanda makes as a "necessarily evil" because of the steel needed during the era of Trump-tariffs. 

"All the money that company has made in the 70's was never re-invested in the company for safety, security, or air quality," she added. "Millions upon million and millions  of dollars was taken out of that company, distributed among the Crane family members, and was never re-invested in that plant."

She said that if the plant is brought up to code it will become a safe operation.

"It's a necessary operation for steel," she said.

The plant's DEC permit will be revoked on August 4 unless there is an appeal. Hogenkamp expects it will be appealed, meaning they'll be allowed to produce coke despite the cease-and-desist. 

"Keep your windows closed if you can," she advised anyone near the plant. "When you're driving anywhere in the area...use the recirculation button in your car."

She will continue to file complaints with the DEC any time the smells are noticeable. 

Hogenkamp is also the President of the Citizens United for Justice. The group has a private Facebook page which has details about who to call from the DEC with complaints about the plant. 

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