The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined Tonawanda Coke $40,000 for not adequately protecting against oil spills, officials said Wednesday.
However, the EPA also said the company has since fixed the problem.
Nina Habib Spencer, an EPA spokeswoman, said the EPA filed a complaint against Tonawanda Coke last April after waiting five years for the Town of Tonawanda company to remedy its problems.
There was no evidence of actual oil spills, she said. But the EPA found the company's plant at 3875 River Road didn't have an adequate method for preventing an oil spill from reaching the nearby Niagara River, a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Ms. Spencer said the company, which manufactures coke, a coal product used by steel companies, was a using a man-made pond with a weir, or fence, to stop oil from leaking into the Niagara River in the event of a spill.
Theoretically, the pond's weir would have blocked light weight oils because they float to the top.
But it would not have stopped coal tar, Ms. Spencer said. Coal tar is a heavy oil and it could have sunk below the weir, possibly seeping through, she said.
"Good engineering dictates that you design a system that deals effectively with heavy oil," she said.
Tonawanda Coke also had problems with the containment systems around its storage tanks, she said. In some cases, there weren't any, the EPA found.
In other cases, there were basins around the tanks to catch leaking oil, but they were clogged by coal tar and could have overflowed, she said.
To rectify the problems, Tonawanda Coke rebuilt its retention pond and fixed its tank containment basins, she said.
The $40,000 fine was the first of its type in this region, Ms. Spencer said. The maximum penalty for such violations is $125,000.