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Erie Coke Corporation in trouble? 

10-8-2019

Samuel Wolfe, Contributing Writer

Erie Coke is a coke foundry plant that is located down the street from campus near East Avenue. The company built their first blast furnace in 1833 in Erie. The land was bought in 1987 and the Erie Coke Corporation came to be. The company has violated many environmental regulations over the past decade and continues to do. Erie News Now reported that the Pennsylvania DEP sent a letter the plant explaining the violations that occurred from January to March and how much they went over the max amount by. Over the past fifteen years Erie Coke has paid almost $9 million in fines to Pennsylvania DEP. How new are these violations and do Behrend students need to be concerned?

Erie Coke corporation uses the coal and uses it with iron or steel making. The coal is placed around the iron or steel in the furnace. The furnace is heated to 1800 degrees. After the iron is done being melted the coal becomes foundry coke. Much of the foundry coke is sold to be used for electricity making. The pollutants are burned when the coke is formed leaving less pollution in the coke.

The Erie Coke plant has had some of their furnaces since 1942, which is well past the 40-year lifespan for a furnace. This and many other factors, such as they will not pay money to upgrade or fix their old equipment, are the reasons the company has been in many environmental legal battles. According to a case study done by the EPA’s Environmental Justice in Waste Programs, the company had “a notorious history of environmental problems, including violations of air-quality standards and fines.” 

In November of 2008, the Erie Coke Corporation was said to have exceeded the pollution limits by eight times since June 23, 2008. They started violating the limit after the Department of Environmental Protections fined them $6.1 million for a flagrant disregard for current air-quality standards (Robb, 2008). The company has continued to violate the EPA, WHD, DEP, and OSHA several times a year for anywhere between $6,000 to more than $6 million.

Earlier this year on March 31, a tank that holds pre-treat wastewater formed a hole in in its casing and eventually spilled its contents. About 300 gallons was spilled from the above ground tank and onto the land. The company said that the tank has been taken out of service and will be fixed before being used again. The DEP says that the company repaired the hole by welding a large metal sheet over the hole. Another hole formed and the tank spilled on March 31. Many chemicals were released from this water into the ground such as benzene, ammonia, and cyanide, said the DEP, as reported by Erie News Now. These chemicals can seep into the soil and eventually get into the lake causing lots of pollution. Erie Coke committed several violations when they tried to repair their tank and clean up the spill. Erie Coke stated that they are working closely with the DEP to resolve any issues and “strives to provide a safe environment for its employees and the surrounding communities”, as reported by Erie News Now. 

The DEP has reported several violations at Erie Coke since June 2017.  In April, a letter was sent by the Pennsylvania DEP to the plant’s superintendent about malodors being reported outside the plant. No unusual pollution, including anything in the air can be found outside the facility according to the DEP’s letter but pollution was found outside the property of Erie Coke.

The big question is should students at Behrend be worried about the air pollution being carried down-wind to campus? Will the water become contaminated by the coke and other chemicals? If Erie Coke does not start following the EPA’s regulations or clean up its act it could affect surrounding citizens including Behrend students. The possible negative effects of such pollution cannot be measured accurately but such chemicals have the potential for serious health concerns.