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Niagara Falls cardboard plant pays $375K fine, agrees to correction plan for hydrogen sulfide leak

A cardboard assembly line

The problem revolved around the Cascades cardboard plant at 4001 Packard Rd. in Niagara Falls. It is a familiar plant, from past fires in paper stored there for recycling into cardboard. This time the problem was pungent air coming from the plant, noticeable to city residents downwind, starting in May.

It took until September to figure out what was wrong and get it resolved.

"It was a little slow going at the beginning, but once Cascades realized that we were serious, I think when they realized the extent of the issue that they were causing, I do believe that they put a significant amount of resources, both technical and financial, into solving the issue," said Acting Regional state Department of Environmental Conservation Director Chad Staniszewski.

Cascades paid a $375,000 fine and agreed to hydrogen sulfide monitoring on the plant fence line.

Staniszewski said it turned out to be broken pipes in a biological water treatment system, a $2 million repair.

"The problem with these biological systems is that they can be quite finicky and they can take time to correct," he said. "They covered the aerobic digestors so that they could collect the emissions from the aerobic digestors, which were not covered before. And just recently, as recently as last week, they had the manufacturer of the aerobic digestor and workers actually in the anaerobic digestor fixing the broken pipes."

In an agreement calling for the fine and a series of operational changes, the company agreed to run a tighter ship, from comprehensive air sampling and better sealing of tanks to a complaint hotline for the public and weekly reports to the DEC summarizing complaints from the public and what was done about the complaints. Cascades is also permanently installing hydrogen sulfide monitors on the plant fence.

"As part of this process, we required them to put hydrogen sulfide monitors on the fence line," Staniszewski said. "Part of our notice of violation, as well as part of the fine, as well as the consent order, revolved around the fact that they were exceeding standards for hydrogen sulfide at their fence line. They were not substantially exceeding standards but they were exceeding standards."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.