DOH Memo on Northport Lead Screening Results

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November 5, 2015

CATEGORY: News Release
RELEASE DATE: For Immediate Release
RE: Lead Screening in Northport
CONTACT: Northeast Tri County Health District
509-684-2262

In response to concerns over elevated levels of lead in soil and possible human exposure in the Northport area, the Washington State Department of Health and the Northeast Tri-County Health District (NETCHD) collaborated to host a community blood lead testing event on October 28, 2015.

Preliminary test results suggested that a higher than expected number of people may have elevated blood lead levels. Since the test results are preliminary, follow-up testing is needed to confirm these results. People with elevated results were advised to see their doctor for confirmatory testing.

Lead is a naturally occurring metal element found in the environment. Exposure to lead may come from the past use of lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, and industrial mining, smelting, and refining. Lead is dangerous for children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do. Their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

NETCHD will be conducting follow-up case investigations to determine the possible lead exposure source for individuals who had elevated screening results. NETCHD will also be offering another community blood lead screening event in early December, 2015. That date will be announced when finalized. For more information on lead and prevention strategies, please visit http://www.doh.wa.gov/lead or contact Matt Schanz, Environmental Health Director at 509-684-2262.

Citizens for a Clean Columbia Jan Newsletter

Citizens for a Clean Columbia

Our mission: to advocate for a clean Columbia River ecosystem

Newsletter JANUARY 2016

 

Who are we?

Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC) is a volunteer organization focused on advocating for the health of the Upper Columbia River (UCR) and Lake Roosevelt. Visit us at www.cleancolumbia.org.

News in Brief

EPA October 2015 Meeting in Northport, WA

  • EPA discussed the residential and upland soil studies that found some elevated levels of lead and arsenic in soils on UCR properties.
  • Information was presented on the soil cleanup currently underway, the Upland soil study, and the residential soil sampling planned for 2016.

Lead Screening in Northport

  • Northeast Tri-County Health District conducted free blood lead level screening which raised technical questions for one concerned citizen.

CCC September River Clean-up Event

  • As part of the General Member Meeting, a clean- up event, lead by Matt Wolohan, was conducted at Black Sand beach and Northport beach.
  • A truck-load of trash was removed. The most interesting item was an old saloon token.

Technical Advisor Update

    • Joe observed time-critical removal and remediation activities on Northport properties.
    • He also reviewed and provided comments on split sample data summary reports, the draft UCR Residential Soil Study Field Sampling and Data.
    • Summary Report and Bossburg Flat Beach report, and the 2016 residential soil sampling quality assurance project plan.

Full News Articles

October 2015 EPA Northport Meeting on Residential Soil Clean-up and Additional Sampling Plans in 2016

EPA held a public meeting in Northport, WA to discuss results of the residential and upland soil studies, property clean-up already in progress, and plans for additional sampling. The event was well attended. EPA representatives (Laura Buelow below) began with history of the Residential Soil Study sampling and the time-critical removal action already underway for 15 or the 74 tested properties that met action levels of 700 ppm lead or 90 ppm arsenic.

An expanded sampling is planned for 2016 for those residential properties in the original study area that declined or did not respond to the first request. In addition, EPA is expanding the sampling area downstream to China Bend (see map on next page). A subset of the Marble community will also be identified for sampling. The immediate town of Northport is excluded from this round of sampling since it was sampled for an EPA soil removal in 2004. The soil results will also be used for the Upper Columbia River remedial investigation and feasibility study human health risk assessment. The sampling work is being performed by Teck American Incorporated (TAI), under EPA oversight.

Eligible properties will receive an Access Agreement this winter from TAI. Property owners who do not get an Access Agreement in the mail and would like their property tested can call or email the EPA, or check with their landlord if applicable, to see if he or she has signed an Access Agreement.

Information was also presented on the Upland Soil Study results – the Final Data Summary Report can be found on Teck’s website at Teck final ucr-rifs study results. A number of questions were generated including Teck’s organization, air monitoring, property values, additional contaminants, irritable bowel disease links, options for properties above screening levels but not at critical removal action level, differences between EPA and WA Dept of Ecology lead screening levels, and risk from road dust.

Kay Morrison from EPA will seek answers to these questions and provide them to CCC and the community soon. To contact her email morrison.kay@epa.gov, or call 206-553- 8321 or 1-800-424-4372 ext. 8321.

EPA has produced fact sheets on the Residential Soil Sampling results or the reader can refer to past newsletters for additional information.

Mindy Smith, CCC secretary

 

Lead Screening in Northport

Northeast Tri County Health District (NETCHD) conducted a free blood lead level screening at the Northport school cafeteria on October 28, 2015. The event was extremely well attended, with approximately 50 children and 20 adults undergoing blood lead level screening. Exact numbers are not available from NETCHD due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) concerns.

The screening procedure used finger stick capillary tube blood collection and lead level determination using a LeadCare II blood lead analyzer on loan from Washington State Department of Health (DOH). It is estimated by attendees that 35 to 40 percent of the results were greater than screening levels, which is 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) for children and 10 μg/dL for adults. All adults and parents of children with results above screening levels were encouraged by NETCHD to have their doctors perform a confirmatory venous blood draw lead level determination. Approximately one third of the individuals with lead levels above the screening level had venous blood lead determinations performed. None of the venous blood lead levels were above screening levels. It is not known if any of the other two thirds of individuals with LeadCare II results above screening levels actually have blood lead levels of concern.

Why was there such a discrepancy between the screening test and venous sampling? NETCHD issued a news release on January 7, 2016 concerning the lead screening (the full release is available on the CCC web site). The release stated: “It is not uncommon for environmental contamination, especially in areas where lead may be endemic in the environment, to yield false positives. For this reason, elevated lead levels detected by capillary finger stick testing should always be followed up by confirmation testing through a physician.” This begs the question “Why was a method that could yield false positive results used to screen residents in an area that had just had fourteen residences undergo a time critical removal action by the EPA due to high soil lead levels?” The answer may be that the method was the only affordable screening procedure that NETCHD could offer. The venous blood method is significantly more expensive and the LeadCare II instrument was available from DOH at no expense to NETCHD. A great deal of anguish may have been eliminated if the suggestion for confirmatory testing was accompanied with disclosure of the relatively high incidence of false positives in lead contaminated areas. All anguish would have been avoided if the screening was done using a method that does not result in false positives.

Discussions with representatives of Magellen Diagnostics, the manufacturer of the LeadCare II analyzer, revealed that lead on skin surfaces from environmental sources is by far the most common cause of false positive results. The analyzer uses an electrochemical process that is very specific for lead. Alcohol wipes used to sanitize the skin prior to obtaining capillary blood samples do not remove lead contamination. Patients should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water prior to screening. Recycled paper and cloth towels may contain enough lead to interfere with the test, so hands should be air dried. At the Northport screening, only alcohol wipes were used to clean and sanitize skin surfaces.

The presence of lead on so many people’s hands raises the question of where the lead came from. It is unlikely that everyone was working in soil prior to testing. This is particularly troublesome with recent news about lead contamination from water in Flint, Michigan, which was ignored for months by state officials who insisted that repeat testing of Flint’s water treatment plant and in private homes had detected no lead (http://www.usatoday.com/story/flint.

One possible cause in our area is airborne lead contamination of surfaces touched by the patients prior to testing. This is one reason that CCC is pushing for an air monitoring study in the Northport area. This author would also like to see some agency or organization step up and offer free venous blood lead testing for local residents.

A concerned citizen

**As a physician as well as CCC secretary, I wanted to provide a bit of information on lead and lead screening in follow-up to the above article.

First, no threshold for the toxic effects of lead has been identified, and lead exposure in young children at 10 μg/dL has a negative influence on cognition (acquiring knowledge). The effect of blood lead on intelligence quotient (IQ) in young children is estimated at an average loss of two to three points for blood lead levels of 20 μg/dL. Other effects of high lead levels include damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing, developmental delay, behavior problems, poor muscle coordination, and decreased bone and muscle growth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 years have blood lead levels above 5 μg/dL, the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated (http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/). Children are mostly exposed to lead through skin contamination from dust, paint and soil. Hand-to-mouth activity is the most common pathway for children to develop lead poisoning by ingestion of leaded dust in the home environment. Newborns can be exposed through breast milk when lead contained in the mother’s bones is mobilized.

There are a number of problems with blood lead measurement. Aside from equipment and contamination problems, lead levels in young children can rise or fall relatively quickly depending on the degree of ongoing exposure and the amount of lead already in their bones, which are constantly being remodeled. Genetics can also affect how lead is bound in blood.

The good news is that controlling lead exposure works. In Trail BC, mean blood lead levels fell at an average rate of 1.8 microg/dL per year, from 11.5 microg/dL in 1996 to 5.9 microg/dL in 1999, likely due to the start-up of a new lead smelter using modern flash-smelting technology in May of 1997.

CCC September River Clean-up Event

Under the leadership of our board member Matt Wolohan, the CCC board and members conducted what we hope will be the first annual beach clean-up event at Black Sand and Northport Beaches.

We removed about a truck load of trash, cans for recycling, and other odd bits. The most interesting item was an old token from a local saloon. Following the cleanup was a potluck lunch and General Member Meeting held in the Northport park.

Special thanks to Art and Nina Grobben.

Mindy Smith, CCC secretary

Technical Advisor Report

My efforts over the past six months focused on the 2014 residential soil study time-critical removal action, the 2016 residential soil study, the Bossburg refined sediment and soil study data summary report, and review of split sample results from two recent studies. CCC used my reviews as the basis for their comments to EPA.

I observed time-critical removal and remediation activities at several properties on Mitchel Road, near Sheep Creek and on Waneta Road. The project was well planned and all activities were performed professionally and carefully. Even though this was one of the driest summers on record, I did not observe any dust escaping from soil removal, stockpiling or disposal activities. Great care was taken in excavating near buildings and established trees and shrubs. A lot of hand excavation was performed to avoid damage to established plantings.

Soil removal was performed in two steps. The top 6 inches was removed and the underlying soil was analyzed for lead levels in a grid pattern. Areas with lead levels above 250 micrograms per kilogram (μg/kg) were then excavated to a depth of 12inches. These areas were analyzed for lead levels again. Areas with lead levels above 250 μg/kg were covered with landscape fabric to serve as a warning for future digging activities. Excavated areas were replaced with clean soil and replanted or covered with any other material that the property owner requested. All property owners I spoke with were very happy with the entire process.

I reviewed split sample data summary reports for the 2013 sediment toxicity study and the 2014 residential soil study. Split samples are collected to compare sample analyses by the contractor and EPA analytical laboratories. The sediment samples were obtained using a grab sampling device that retrieved approximately five gallons at a time. A single five- gallon sample was used for each split sample analysis. The five-gallon sample was homogenized (thoroughly mixed) at the contractor laboratory and two samples were removed for analysis, one for each laboratory. The residential soil study used incremental composite sampling (ICS) for most study samples. This procedure collected 30 small samples from each sampling area (decision unit). The 30 samples were combined in one container in the field. The ICS method specifies a rigorous and lengthy procedure for mechanically preparing the sample prior to the standard analytical procedure. Only the contractor laboratory performed the mechanical sample processing, which included homogenization, drying, sieving and subsampling the processed sample for analysis at each laboratory. CCC believes the sediment split sample results accurately reflect the variability in results obtained at two independent laboratories. Due the importance of the ICS sample preparation procedure and the use of only one laboratory to perform this step, CCC believes that the residential soil split sample results can only be used to compare the performance of the analytical method at the two laboratories, and not the actual levels of metals determined in each sample.

I reviewed the draft UCR Residential Soil Study Field Sampling and Data Summary Report and provided my comments to CCC. CCC requested that maps giving the spatial distribution of metals concentrations for all metals with levels above action levels be included in the report. CCC requested that a section be added to document the collection of the nine split samples for CCC. CCC also requested that the large number of estimated results for antimony and beryllium be addressed in the Human Health Risk Assessment.

I reviewed the draft Bossburg Flat Beach Refined Sediment and Soil Study Data Summary Report and provided my comments to CCC. The major concern with the report was the large number of procedural and record keeping errors that occurred at the analytical laboratory. These included missing laboratory notebook entries, procedural errors that resulted in biased results, in vitro bioaccessibility assay (IVBA) lead results that were greater than total lead results, all antimony results being estimated, and triplicate sample results being out of compliance. CCC requested that a formal review of the laboratory be performed to determine the cause of these issues to eliminate a reoccurrence in the future.

I also reviewed the 2016 residential soil sampling quality assurance project plan (QAPP). This QAPP is basically a repeat of the 2014 residential soil study QAPP. The major difference is the change from EPA to Teck American, Incorporated (TAI) as the entity performing the study. Minor study changes included collecting discrete samples at two depths, 0 to 1 inch and 1 to 6 inches, and decreasing the number of triplicate incremental composite samples. CCC also requested that a more detailed map of the study area be included.

Joe Wichmann, PhD; CCC Technical Advisor

Want to be More Involved?

CCC welcomes new members; you can join on our website (www.cleancolumbia.org). You can also find meeting minutes and links to other organizations involved in protecting the environment.

Our next General Member Meeting will be in the fall. We will post updated information on the website. Please join us.

You can also write to our EPA project managers Laura Buelow (buelow.laura@epa.gov), Dustan Bott (bott.dustan@epa.gov) or the EPA region 10 administrator Dennis McLerran (McLerran.Dennis@epa.gov).

 

 

 

EPA failure to act in Flint

Almost 45 years ago, Congress showed great wisdom in creating the architecture for implementing this country’s environmental laws. From the Safe Drinking Water Act to the Clean Air Act, and to laws regulating hazardous and solid waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shares the responsibility with state governments for implementing their provisions: from permitting, to inspections, to enforcement.

Where states don’t have the resources, wherewithal or political will to implement the laws meant to protect public health and the environment, the federal government is not only legally empowered, but also legally and — in some cases — morally, obligated to act. This is especially true in emergencies where there is an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public’s health.

The actions currently being taken by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, as welcome as they are, are long overdue. Flint is a failure to act by those charged with protecting our safety and health (under the law) at both the federal and state levels.

Despite what some have said, the U.S. EPA does have the ability to take back delegated programs, like this one. But more importantly, the U.S. EPA has the independent authority to take emergency actions. That didn’t happen. At the very least, that’s an abrogation of great public trust and responsibility by many of the public officials involved.

There is plenty of blame to go around, not to mention possible criminal charges down the road. There is also the matter of a widespread erosion of confidence well beyond Flint, where everyone in America is suddenly — and justifiably — wondering, “What about my water?”

When confronted with concrete information about the significant health threats posed by lead in Flint’s drinking water almost a year ago, U.S. EPA officials had the authority to act decisively, with or without the state, to aggressively address a serious problem. They did not.

It was within the mandate of the U.S. EPA to warn the public, provide alternate water supplies and filters, conduct sampling, call in the Centers for Disease Control, and issue emergency orders to Michigan and Flint compelling action. They did not.

But beyond legal authority, mandates and responsibility, the U.S. EPA had the moral obligation to do something about Flint. They did not.

The fact it did not happen as months went by — and thousands of people were exposed to contaminated water — can only be considered hubris.

Several years ago, as I thanked an organization for an award, I said that working in a public office is a great honor and a responsibility, because you have the ability to impact the lives of millions of people — for better or worse.

In Flint, it was for an almost unimaginable worse.

Mary Gade is president of Gade Environmental Group in Chicago. She served as U.S. EPA regional administrator, Region 5, 2006-2008.

Additional Soil Sampling Planned in 2016

Soil sampling expands in Upper Columbia clean up

imageTribune | Posted 3 weeks ago

www.tribaltribune.com

NORTHPORT—The residential soil sampling of Upper Columbia properties potentially contaminated by Teck Cominco’s smelter in Trail, B.C. is expanding downriver to encompass an area that nearly doubles the size of that allowed in a similar 2014 study.

Teck American Incorporated will soon send out letters to property owners in both the 2014 area who declined the first study, as well as property owners in the newly added area that stretches from just upriver of Northport approximately 15 miles downriver to China Bend.

“We don’t expect residential soil sampling to be offered over and over again,” Andy Dunau, Lake Roosevelt Forum director, said in a press release, “So it’s very important for landowners to make an informed choice now about whether to participate in this free soil sampling and to possibly be considered for free immediate action if metals are found at unsafe levels.”

As with the 2014 study, TAI and their contractors will perform the sampling studies with oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency.

This spring, TAI, EPA and contractors will conduct site visits to identify sampling locations and to develop a specific sampling plan for each property, according to the release.

Sampling will take place in fall 2016, and the results will be available in the following months.

The 2014 study sampled 74 residential properties between Northport and the U.S.-Canadian border with the objective of determining if people could be exposed to levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals, according the LRF.

Results from the study lead to the immediate clean up of 13 residential properties and one tribal allotment based on EPA’s Time Critical Removal Action.

A TAI contractor performed the removal with oversight from the EPA. Colville Tribes were hired for historic and cultural considerations.

Another six tribal allotments exceeded the Colville Tribes’ cleanup standards, said Environmental Trust employee Patti Bailey in November.

Seven tribal allotments will be sampled in the 2016 study, Bailey said.

The community of Marble, located within the new study zone, will also receive soil sampling at a representative subset of properties to determine typical heavy metal levels and if further sampling is needed to additional owners.

The town of Northport is not currently eligible to receive sampling as the town underwent a soil removal action program in 2004, according to LRF.

The Colville Tribes petitioned the EPA to do a clean up and assessment in the Upper Columbia River in 1999.

In 2012, Teck was found liable for intentionally discharging at least 9.97 million tons of slag, including heavy metals such as lead, zinc, mercury, cadmium, copper and arsenic, directly into the Columbia River from its smelter in Trail.

Along with the residential soil sampling, the EPA has overseen sampling of Bossburg Flats, sediment sampling off 136 sites to determine risks to sediment dwelling bugs, upland soil sampling to evaluate risks to ecological receptors in upland areas, mussel and crayfish sampling, surface water sampling between the Canadian Border and Grand Coulee Dam and beach sampling of 43 beaches.

Concerning surface water, the LRF release notes, “After three rounds of sampling the [EPA] showed Lake Roosevelt and the Upper Columbia general water quality safe for swimming. Further, surface water concentrations for all metals and organics are within limited protective of aquatic life

Runaway Train

Small communities through-out the United States are slowly, and unknowingly, being poisoned.  The poisons are unavoidable.  The residents are exposed to them from the air and dust they breath, the water they drink, the soil they grow gardens in, and the small particulate matter that they absorb through their skin.  There is no where to hide, and even if there were they aren’t even aware of the danger they should be hiding from. The question is, perhaps they are better off not knowing?

Industrial pollution is nothing new.  To a small community the benefits usually outweigh the cost.  These industries bring hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to their community.  They bring with them a promise of a better future.  A promise of job security, retirement, 401k’s, insurance.  They also bring with them their pollution.  Industrial pollution is an unavoidable consequence that we have been aware of since the Industrial Revolution began in 1840.  For well over a century the damage the toxic by-products of these industries were basically ignored.  There was very little evidence that the pollution was causing effects to people’s health or the environment.  By the time enough scientists, environmentalists, and personally affected advocates took notice the problem was like an oncoming, out of control train with no brakes.  Stopping it would take a miracle, ignoring it would eventually cause a disaster unlike any we had ever seen.

The Government saw the train coming, so they attempted to slow it down.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established on December 2, 1970.  Once the EPA fully understood the depth of the damage they were dealing with more government agencies were formed, specifically the Department of Health (DOH).  The amount of locations and the severity of the damage industrial polluters had created was simply unmanageable.  In 1980, in an attempt to hold these polluters financially responsible for the clean-up of these sites, a federal law was passed.  The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).  In 1986 The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) was also passed.  CERCLA & SARA gave the EPA the resources to establish and begin remediation of Superfund sites, locations throughout the U.S. so contaminated they require long-term investigations and millions of dollars of remediation to effectively clean up the hazardous materials.

Almost all Superfund sites are located near communities impacted by the toxins from the site.  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was created to assist the EPA with the hundreds of health consultations of impacted communities at Superfund sites needed.  It appeared the Government’s attempt to at least slow down the train was working, in theory.

My family is from Northport, Washington. We were one of those communities blissfully ignorant that we were slowly being poisoned. Northport is located in northeast Washington, 12 miles from the Canadian border.  It is a breathtaking little town, situated on the banks of the mighty Columbia River.  It is a small, close knit community of 375 people.  Many of the residents are from the families of the town’s original settlers.   

For over 100 years the residents of Northport have been, and continue to be, poisoned by the heavy metal toxins released by Teck, a lead and zinc smelter in Trail B.C. Canada.  The discharge from Teck’s smelting process is referred to as slag.  Slag is a black, sand like material that contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.  From 1906 – 1996 Teck disposed of their slag through two specially designed pipes that dumped it directly into the Columbia River, 3 miles upriver from Northport.  Teck’s records indicate they dumped approximately 9.8 million tons of slag into the river over the course of 90 years. 

The air emissions from Teck’s smelting process are released from two smoke stacks. Teck increased the height of these smoke stacks shortly after a lawsuit brought against them in 1933. Two farmers from Northport sued Teck for damages to their crops and cows, caused by the massive amount of sulfur dioxide Teck was releasing from the smoke stacks.  Statements from residents at the time recall the suffocating smell of the sulfur dioxide, paint peeling off cars, barb wire fences disintegrating, and farm animals falling over dead.  Teck eventually lost the suit and was told to find a way to drastically reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide.  In an attempt to comply, but avoid financial loss, they raised the height of the smoke stacks.  Their theory was their air pollution would be dispersed high enough as to not cause damage to the environment below.  Unfortunately the increased height of the smoke stacks actually dispersed the pollution further.  This pollution often got trapped in the valley in Northport, giving the farms located in the valley the nickname of “the heavy fallout zone”.  All four Department of Ecology air monitoring studies done in Northport between 1992-1994 concluded levels of arsenic and cadmium were well above all safety standards.  Arsenic levels were 200 times higher than recommended safety levels.

The EPA conducted a site assessment of the area between 1999-2003.  They found it was so contaminated it fell under CERCLA, or the Superfund guidelines. A remedial investigation and feasibility study was planned. The EPA issued Teck a Unilateral Administrative Order, demanding they assist with the investigation.  Teck ignored the order, and the EPA all but forgot about it.  Until two members from the Colville Confederated Tribe filed a civil suit under CERCLA in 2004.  This suit demanded that the EPA enforce their order against Teck.  After several court battles Teck lost it’s last appeal and was forced to cooperate with the EPA to complete a study of the Upper Columbia River.  The first phases of the studies began in 2006.  After 9 years of testing, and usually re-testing, the studies are finally progressing.  There has been a clean-up of a beach and many residential soil clean-ups.

However, despite the data of contamination collected from the EPA investigations, and the multiple health issues reported by the residents, the DOH and the ATSDR did not think the health issues and exposure to the heavy metal toxins were linked.  In 2004 the ATSDR published their Public Health Assessment of Northport.  In it they stated “ATSDR’s conclusions are based on the environmental sampling and health outcome data that were available to ATSDR between 1995 and 1999. With few exceptions, these data showed no evidence of adverse health effects associated with exposure to environmental contaminants, but significant data gaps existed.”

When an established government agency tells you their is no evidence of health issues caused by your exposure to confirmed environmental toxins that should be a relief.  It was a relief, to many people.  However, the extremely high rate of rare illnesses and diseases diagnosed in three generations, of a town of approximately 350 people, still weighed on the community member’s minds.  The discussion of the illnesses died down a bit after the report.  Until the next diagnosis was made, and another, and then another.

Residents in Northport decided to conduct their own health survey in 2009.  Health questionnaires were distributed to current and past residents of Northport, spanning three generations. We received more than 500 completed questionnaires. Per the health cluster guidelines of the CDC and ATSDR, the results we collected from the returned questionnaires showed health clusters of brain aneurisms (23), specific cancers (65), parkinson’s disease/multiple scoliosis (13), thyroid diseases (116), and ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease (54).   According to the ATSDR’s ToxGuide, the EPA’s toxicity profiles, and the DOH’s toxic standards, chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins released by Teck can be linked to all of these health issues.

The DOH and the ATSDR had already discovered the health cluster of ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease in the area in 1992 and 2004, but they claimed there was no way to link the extremely rare diseases to our exposure to the heavy metal toxins of concerns the EPA identified.   

After publishing the results of our community health survey a doctor with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation contacted us.  He conducted his own study on the reported cases of ulcerative colitis and crohn’s in the area.  The study concluded that the rates of these diseases were 5 to 11 times higher than expected.  Based on these results an additional study is being conducted of the residents with ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease, focusing on the amount of accumulated toxins found in their systems and referencing the EPA residential soil study results.

I recently contacted the regional director of the ATSDR, Rhonda Kaetzel, and Kay Morrison with the WA DOH, regarding the Government agencies unwillingness to go forward with a human health assessment of Northport. The Canadian smelter has admitted fault for the pollution, and the environmental testing confirms the specific heavy metal toxins found above standard safety levels.  Armed with this information, it would seem our little town of 375 people would be ideal for several epidemiological research studies on the many health clusters discovered.  Many of the illnesses reported do not have cures, and what causes them has yet to be discovered.  In part, Ms. Kaetzel, the ATSDR director, responded with: “…DOH has communicated in the past that establishing a new link between a disease and environmental contaminant is not something that can be achieved without studying a large population of people with the disease and who have diverse exposures. Without a well-established link or specific funding, this type of research study is beyond the scope of the ATSDR-funded program within DOH and ATSDR.  Ms. Morrison’s response was more apologetic, in it she stated: “I understand that you’d like more research to be done to discover links between environmental contaminants and a number of reported illnesses in the Northport area.  Unfortunately EPA and ATSDR do not perform this kind of broad research….”

Chronic exposure to even low levels of heavy metal toxins cause health issues, the ATSDR, DOH, and EPA admit this.  The lack of knowledge on the actual health effects triggered or caused by this exposure are not well understood by these agencies due to the lack of long term investigations.  However, if they would utilize our established environmental history, and bio-monitoring of the impacted residents, a great deal might be learned.

Time and time again all of the Government agencies created to protect us have told me that our communities health issues are “beyond the scope” of their responsibilities.  So if it is none of these agencies responsibilities to protect future generations from the health issues possibly caused by long term exposure to low levels of these toxins, whose responsibility is it?

Maybe these agencies just assume it is better off not knowing.  Let someone else jump in front of that train.

Teck held accountable for airborne pollution – per Court ruling

Mining Co. Must Face Airborne Pollution Claims, Court Told

The federal government and a California state agency urged the Ninth Circuit Tuesday to affirm that a Canadian mining company must face allegations from Washington state and a Native American tribal confederation over certain airborne pollutants emitted by its facility that allegedly settled in the Columbia River.

Teck Cominco Metals Ltd., which has been found liable for pollution it dumped directly into the river, asked the appeals court in August to strike new allegations from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the state of Washington that some of the water pollution arose from air emissions, saying the claims are precluded under the circuit court’s decision in a separate case last year.

There, it found that waste initially emitted aerially before falling on land or water doesn’t count as a “disposal” of waste under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. argued in an amicus brief that Teck’s argument creates a new requirement that isn’t supported by CERCLA’s wording and would undermine Congress’ objectives. Under Teck’s interpretation, polluters could avoid cleanup liability under CERCLA if their pollutants traveled through the air at all before reaching land or water, according to the government’s brief.

“Teck’s crabbed interpretation would negate ‘disposal’ in countless cases, put many polluters beyond CERCLA’s reach, and lead to absurd results that cannot be squared with CERCLA’s text and purposes,” the government told the court.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by two members of the tribes, later joined by the state of Washington and the tribes themselves, to enforce a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order directing Teck to address contamination of the Columbia River that had crossed the border. After Teck settled the EPA’s claims, the suit continued on claims under CERCLA.

The tribes added the aerial emissions claims after U.S. District Judge Lonny R. Suko clarified that his December 2012 decision, finding Teck liable for the tribes’ and state’s costs related to hazardous materials the company dumped into the river, didn’t cover liability for air emissions. The parties are currently litigating the extent to which Teck is liable for damages from the direct pollution.

Teck urged the Ninth Circuit in its August brief to strike the air emissions allegations, citing the circuit’s ruling in Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice v.BNSF Railway Co. The company contends that the August 2014 decision, holding that railroad companies weren’t liable under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for diesel pollution because the act doesn’t cover pollution that is first emitted in the air, applies to the tribes’ claims because CERCLA incorporates the RCRA’s definition of “disposal.”

On Tuesday, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control echoed the federal government’s comments in a second amicus brief, saying that narrowing the meaning of “disposal” under CERCLA would be contrary to CERCLA’s purpose. Under that interpretation, companies could skirt the regulation by pulverizing their hazardous waste and releasing it into the air, the department said.

The department added that the example isn’t theoretical in California, where lead smelters and certain metal recycling operations emit hazardous substances into the air that eventually fall to the ground.

“A ruling from the court that interprets ‘disposal’ narrowly could inhibit DTSC’s ability to respond under the [California Hazardous Substances Account Act], and to recover costs under CERCLA, to the detriment of California’s citizens and the environment,” according to the brief.

The federal government also argued on Tuesday that Teck’s interpretation of CERCLA relies on an extreme reading of the BNSF case that isn’t applicable in the instant suit. The claims in that case had to do with certain air pollutants that had been directly inhaled, and never reached land or water, the government said, and it was fundamentally about controlling the defendants’ emissions of air pollutants.

The court therefore viewed the suit as an air quality problem under the Clean Air Act, meaning that the plaintiffs’ claims under the RCRA essentially sought to end-run the CAA’s more limited provisions, according to the government.

Attorneys and representatives for the parties were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The tribes are represented by Paul J. Dayton and Brian S. Epley of Short Cressman & Burgess PLLC.

Washington is represented by Assistant Attorneys General Dorothy H. Jaffe and Thomas J. Young, and Assistant Attorney General and Senior Counsel Christa Thompson of the Washington state attorney general’s office.

Teck is represented by Kevin M. Fong and Christopher J. McNevin of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

The California Department of Toxic Substances is represented by the California Attorney General’s office.

The U.S. is represented by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case is Pakootas et al. v. Teck Cominco Metals Ltd., case number 15-35228, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Andrew Westney. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

Request for Northport Resident’s Participation

If you are a current or past resident of Northport, WA and have suffered health issues, specifically:

  • Auto Immune Diseases (MS, Parkinson’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s)
  • Cancers  (report all cancers, but specifically  Bladder, Stomach, Pancreatic, Prostate, Kidney, Brain, Breast)
  • Thyroid/Endocrine Disorders  (Hyper/Hypo Thyroidism, Enlarged Thyroid, Thyroid Cancer, Addisos Disease, etc)
  • Brain Aneurism/Tumors
  • Hearing Loss/Vertigo/ Mieners
  • Heart / Lung Issues (specifically Pulmonary Embolusim)
  • Chronic Sore Throats/Nose Bleeds

I would like to hear from you.  Many of you completed the 2009 Community Health Survey.  However, what I am looking for now is a history of your time in Northport (years lived here and where specifically). Also, illnesses you and/or your family members have been diagnosed with, struggled with, or died as a result of.  Please provide the approximate year the symptoms began.  Also, if you are comfortable, please share how these illnesses have affected you and your families lives.  And some long time residents have shared stories with me from stories they have heard from older relatives, some who even documented the results of Tecks pollution and the havoc and death the toxins causes right befor their eyes.

I am hoping to gather as many personal stories from impacted Residents to help ensure that Northport will receive the Human Health Risk Assessment promised to us for years, and also to create a book of the stories of the impacted residents using your own words, and you and yourheartbreaking sacrificesfrom these emails

Please send your e-mails to:  northportproject@hotmail.com  

They can be as short or as long as you want.

Thank you so much for everyone who takes the time to do this.

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