Lawsuit states Teck released lead, zinc, mercury and other harmful chemicals into the Columbia River
SEATTLE – Senior U.S. District Court Judge, Lonny Suko, has denied a motion from Teck Mining Company (TSE: TCK) to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the mining giant dumped hazardous chemicals and pollutants into the Columbia River for decades, leading to a host of diseases and health problems for those living downstream in the Northport, Wash., area, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman.
The judge’s order allows the suit to continue to the discovery or evidence-gathering stage on claims that Teck polluted the region and harmed class members because it was negligent in handling toxins or because its smelter operations are inherently dangerous. Judge Suko’s order denied Teck’s motion to strike the proposed class action and agreed with the plaintiffs that it was premature to reach that decision preemptively without discovery.
“We’re pleased with Judge Suko’s decision and look forward to carrying this case onward for the residents and families in the Northport area who have endured such tremendous damages to their health and their home for so long,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro. “We’ve found that these toxic pollutants have wreaked havoc to the area’s forests, crops and livestock, and have greatly impacted the health of residents in the area.”
Teck owned and operated a smelter in Trail, B.C., approximately 20 miles north of Northport, since 1896. According to the complaint filed by Hagens Berman on Dec. 20, 2013, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, Teck has a long history of toxic discharges and emissions, which have allegedly contributed to a disproportionately high instance of disease for those living downstream of the Trail smelter.
The lawsuit alleges that many of the toxins Teck releases from its smelter, including aluminum, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, silica, sulfur dioxide, thallium and zinc are known to cause serious diseases including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, neurological disease, respiratory disease and endocrinological disorders, which also have been reported at elevated levels in the Northport area.
According to the lawsuit against Teck, a health survey found that instances of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in Northport were 10 to 15 times higher than expected for a population its size. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease represent some of the most challenging diseases in all of medicine. Caused by a weakening in the gut barrier, they are regarded as incurable diseases, and patients usually require lifelong heavy medication and multiple devastating surgeries like bowel resection, proctocolectomy, ileostomy and ileal pouch-anal anastomosis. Another study indicated that area residents suffered from thyroid or endocrine disorders at six times the rate of the general population, and also found elevated rates of arthritis, cancer, brain aneurisms and Parkinson’s disease.
Hagens Berman’s complaint details the court’s findings from a related matter that Teck discharged at least 9.97 million tons of slag—a byproduct of the smelting furnaces at the Trail smelter—into the Columbia River between 1930 and 1995, with at least 8.87 million tons carried downstream. The court estimated that the slag contained at least 7.300 tons of lead and 255,000 tons of zinc.
According to the complaint, several other contaminants have been intentionally discharged by the Trail smelter into the Columbia River, including mercury, cadmium, arsenic and antimony, as well as airborne emissions of sulfur dioxide.
The lawsuit also describes multiple leaks and spills, including a major incident in 1980 that released 6,300 pounds of mercury into the Columbia River and 15 tons of sulfuric acid into the air.
The lawsuit alleges that Teck is liable for personal injuries caused by decades of releasing pollutants in the Northport area, and seeks damages to be determined at trial.
More information about the case can be found at http://www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/Teck-Mining-Company.
About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in nine cities. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List seven times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at http://www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.
If you, a family member or friend, (living or deceased), does, or ever did, live in Northport, Washington and suffers or suffered from health issues ranging from; ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, many types of cancers, brain tumors/aneurisms, MS, Parkinson’s, inner ear issues, migraines, etc., and you have not yet been contacted about a class action lawsuit being filed on behalf of past and present Northport residents against Teck Resources Smelter, please email email@example.com for more information.
Attn: Northport Residents
There has been some confusion about the upcoming soil studies taking place in Northport. There are TWO DIFFERENT STUDIES taking place. One is the UPLAND SOIL STUDY, being conducted by Teck as part of the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility study. If your property is to be sampled as part of this study, a letter was sent on May 13th that included an acknowledgement signature line to be returned to Teck in a self-addressed envelope.
The second study is the RESIDENTIAL SOIL STUDY. EPA is conducting this study with their contractors to assess potential risk of residential soil. If your property falls into the study area (which will be expanded if it is discovered that there are additional areas that need to be assessed), you should have been contacted by the EPA to set up a meeting to determine which areas of your property should be sampled. The actual sampling is planned for this summer. If you need more information about this study or you wish to be included, contact Kay Morrison (firstname.lastname@example.org), 206-553-8321, or toll free at 1-800-424-4372.
Lawsuit claims Teck toxins caused disease
VANCOUVER – A Washington state woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B), claiming toxic pollutants from the company’s smelter in southeastern British Columbia are to blame for her breast cancer diagnosis and other health ailments.
Barbara Anderson is a longtime resident of Northport, Wash., a small community about 30 kilometres south of Teck’s lead and zinc smelter in Trail.
The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District Court says Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and inflammatory bowel disease in 2010.
“Teck negligently, carelessly and recklessly generated, handled, stored, treated, disposed of and failed to control and contain the metals and other toxic substances at the Trail smelter, resulting in the release of toxic substances and exposure of plaintiff and the proposed class,” says the claim, filed Thursday.
The smelter has been in operation under various ownership since 1896. Last year, the Vancouver-based mining giant admitted in another lawsuit brought by the Colville Confederated Tribes that effluent from the smelter polluted the Columbia River in Washington for more than a century.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually joined that lawsuit and wants Teck to pay the estimated $1-billion cost of cleaning up the contamination.
The latest lawsuit claims that between 1930 and 1995, the smelter discharged into the Columbia River at least 9 million tonnes of slag containing zinc, lead, copper, arsenic cadmium, barium, antimony, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, selenium and titanium.
“This discharge was intentional and made with knowledge that the waste slag contained metals,” says the complaint.
Teck has spent more than a billion dollars on improvements to the Trail operation. Today, the company says, metals from the smelter are lower than levels that occur naturally in the river.
The company has also spent millions remediating the area in and around Trail following decades of industry, but the company said the international border complicates the issues.
Though the discharges were meant to end in 1996, the suit claims there have been numerous unintentional releases since then, most recently in March 2011, when 350,000 litres of caustic effluent went into the river.
A 2012 study by the Washington Department of Ecology found elevated levels of lead, antimony, mercury, zinc, cadmium and arsenic in soil, lakes and wetlands downriver from the plant, the lawsuit claims.
And another study, concluded this summer by the Crohn’s and Colitis Centre at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that among 119 current and former residents of Northport, there were 17 cases of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease — a rate 10 to 15 times higher than expected in a population of that size.
The lawsuit also says the smelter released 123 tonnes of mercury into the air from 1926 to 2005, and discharged at least 180 tonnes into the river in that time.
Complaints south of the border about the contamination from the Trail smelter surfaced as early as the 1940s, when farmers from Washington state sued Cominco, Teck’s predecessor, over air pollution. That case was eventually resolved in arbitration by the two federal governments and set a precedent for cross-border pollution law.
Anderson and potentially others who could form part of a class-action, if approved, “have suffered a personal injury as a result of Teck’s wrongful conduct in violation of federal common law, nuisance, and Washington negligence and strict liability laws,” the claim says.
The suit asks the court for a declaration that the Trail smelter is “a public nuisance and an abnormally dangerous activity.”
“Teck releases and has released hazardous and toxic substances, which create a high risk of significant harm,” it says.
“Teck has known or should have known about the potential health, safety and environmental dangers these substances pose to the public.”
The company has a duty to prevent injury, it says.
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court. Teck has yet to be served with the lawsuit and file a response with the court.
“It’s possible that this could take a long time,” Barbara Mahoney, Anderson’s lawyer, said Friday
Disease cluster in town of Northport, Washington linked to pollutants released by smelter in British Columbia
By Kraft Palmer Davies, PLLC
Harvard Medical School researchers have determined Northport, Washington, a tiny 296-resident border town, has 10 to 15 times the normal rates of the inflammatory bowel disease. The town is located downwind and downriver of a smelter in Trail, British Columbia run by Teck Resources, which for nearly a century funneled pollution through the narrow canyon of the Columbia River. Residents have long suspected a link between pollution from the smelter and their high incidence of inflammatory bowel disease.
For nearly a century, the Canadian smelter pumped slag, a byproduct of metals refining, directly into the river. More than 10 million tons of the granular slag created the “black sand” beaches of the upper Columbia, a 150-mile reach of the river between the Canadian border and Grand Coulee Dam. The slag contains 25 compounds that include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Liquid mercury and other metals also flowed from the smelter’s sewer systems into the river. More pollutants came out of the plant’s smokestacks.
In the 1980s, the state placed air monitors in Northport which detected elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium. In the early 1990s, anglers in the upper Columbia River reported seeing beads of liquid mercury floating in the water. “When we were kids walking to school, we could smell it in the air,” said a 56-year-old resident of Northport who grew up about 15 miles from the smelter’s stacks.
About 1.4 million people nationwide have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, a similar inflammatory bowel condition. The illnesses affect about one in every 200 people. Both diseases are believed to have environmental triggers, but despite extensive research the causes have never been identified. Researchers are now looking to Northport for clues.
Last year, 119 current and former Northport residents took part in a health survey designed by Dr. Josh Korzenik.. Seventeen had confirmed cases of either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. “That’s about 10 to 15 times what we’d expect to see in a population the size of Northport,” said Korzenik, director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals. “I’m not aware of any other cluster like it.”
Researchers have long suspected that environmental toxins play a role in Crohn’s disease and colitis, which have symptoms including abdominal pain and diarrhea. Both illnesses emerged after the Industrial Revolution, when exposure to pollution from coal-fired factories and vehicle emissions became a part of many people’s daily lives.
Korzenik has ruled out a genetic influence in the town’s cluster: Few of the individuals were related. Seven of the 17 cases were people who lived along Mitchell Road, where sulfur dioxide emissions from the smelter killed farmers’ crops in the 1920s and 1930s, leading to an international lawsuit. Korzenik plans to expand his research to nearby communities.
Residents of Washington living along the upper Columbia River suffering from inflammatory bowel disease may be entitled to recover from Teck and/or affiliated corporations for their injuries.
Written by Jaime Weinstein
Published on September 18, 2012
Small towns are often known for having a story or legend to call their own. This story in particular involves the quiet little town of Northport, Wash., a long-standing pollution battle with a Canadian mining company, and a potential cluster of Inflammatory Bowel Disease diagnoses. For the 295 residents who live in and around Northport, this story is one they definitely could do without.
Canadian mining company Teck Resources Ltd. (formerly Teck Cominco) one of the biggest lead and Zinc smelters in the world has a history of pollution dating back close to a century
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; cause of disease is currently unknown, but researchers believe that genetic and environmental factors are associated
A courageous former Northport resident, Jamie Paparich, who brings information of 50 current and past residents with IBD to the attention of Harvard researchers in 2011
117 current and former Northport residents who participate in a health study designed by Dr. Joshua Korzenik, a Harvard researcher and director of Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
The 17 people in Dr. Korzenik’s initial study who came back with confirmed cases of either type of IBD
In the early 1900s, the company now known as Teck Resources Ltd. started out as a gold mine operation along the Columbia River in Trail B.C., Canada. As the years moved on the mining operation grew to include Zinc, copper, coal and oil.
Starting in the 1930s, farmers from the towns of Northport and Marcus file suit against Teck Cominco (the company’s name at the time) on the grounds that the smelter’s air pollution is destroying crops, especially along farms located on Mitchel Road. This became a landmark case in terms of farmers and pollution.
By 1940, the mining company admits to dumping up to 1,000 tons of slag (mining waste consisting of harmful chemicals like arsenic, cadmium and lead). By the 1980s mercury spills and regular dumping are added to the list of pollutants the company’s smelter is responsible for.
A smelter is a machine that uses extreme heat and pressure to melt or fuse ore in order to separate metallic compounds. The extraction process creates extreme amounts of waste and much of this waste was pumped into the Columbia River up until the mid-1990s.
The Plot Thickens
By the early 1990s the U.S. became aware of Canada fining Teck due to inappropriate dumping procedures involving sulfuric acid, Zinc and cadmium, as well as spills of sulfuric acid, but the U.S. refrains from lobbying fines of their own. Once there was knowledge of a spill, U.S. government agencies were supposed to notify local residents right away. However, this did not occur in relation to the Teck smelter.
Several studies conducted through the 80s and 90s showed elevated levels of mercury in fish such as trout. The most dangerous levels found in fish that many residents liked to catch and consume were usually found around the time a spill had recently occurred. Upon the conclusion of later testing, mercury levels had gone down to a reasonable level in the fish. However, it was found that bottom-dwelling fish were still showing higher than reasonable amounts of mercury in their system. Residents were not notified.
When a corporate memo was issued internally by a Teck environmental manager, Richard Dalosse, it didn’t seem very positive. The memo sent to Dalosse’s supervisors included a startling quote, “If we fail to ensure accurate monitoring of this discharge, it is possible that we could be held civilly or criminally liable.” By then Canadian regulators were already urging Teck to conduct a study regarding the Columbia River and pollution.
In 1994, Teck’s Columbia River Integrated Environmental Monitoring Program concluded its river pollution study. Findings showed a substantial amount of toxins were found south of Teck’s smelter inside of the river’s sediment. The study ended at the Canadian/U.S. border, but located just south of the border are the towns of Northport, Waneta and Washington.
It’s important to note that dumping in the river, within limits, is legal on both the American and Canadian sides of the river. However it’s become increasingly clear that Teck has had quality control issues with over dumping and spills; the last took place in 2010.
One outstanding issue residents of surrounding towns have with this information is that legally they should have been notified and never were. Much of this information has been collected thanks to the curiosity and diligence of a frustrated former resident, Jamie Paparich, whose own family members and friends suffer from various forms of IBD.
Putting the Pieces of the Story Together
On August 15 the Vancouver Sun ran an interview with Jamie Paparich and her aunt, Rose Kalamarides. Paparich a former Northport resident formed the Northport Project, which now consists of an extensive series of documents including a timeline laying out varying amounts of pollution dumped, spills, and the dates they took place.
As part of the Northport Project, Paparich performed an informal survey she hoped would catch the eye of the medical community. Results came back showing what Paparich had suspected all along, a potential IBD cluster, as well as something else. Additional smaller clusters involving certain types of cancer, as well as thyroid disease and Multiple Sclerosis; both are also inflammatory disease brought on by the immune system.
Speaking about the location of the family farm she grew up on, “It’s where the river starts to slow down and creates pools and swimming holes.” Both Paparich’s father and aunt grew up on the farm, as well. “All these kids swam in it, we irrigated with it, for decades, she added.” In the 1980s the state of Washington placed air monitors on the property to track air pollution. Results showed elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium.
Why did they do it?
One possibility could be, because the family farm is located along Mitchel Road. The very same road from the landmark farming lawsuit that took place many decades ago.
Rose Kalamarides, along with another sister, related a story to reporters about how during summertime their mother’s grocery bill was never higher than $5.00. Everything they ate came from the farm. Looking back now, they acknowledge you can’t see pollution in the head of lettuce you’re eating. And when referring to the aroma that wafted 15 miles south into Northport, Kalamarides told the Spokesman-Review, “When we were kids walking to school, we could smell it in the air.”
Now at the age of 56, Kalamarides has been dealing with ulcerative colitis for close to 30 years. Along with struggling to keep weight on and having to endure numerous blood transfusions, Kalamarides has had quite the battle with ulcerative colitis from having to have her colon removed to needing an ostomy, and now requires a catheter. As for her brother Jim (Paparich’s father), he has the disease too but is faring better.
Included in the group of people who have IBD that Kalamarides personally knows are a good friend, her third grade teacher and a childhood classmate.
Growing concerned with the amount of people she knew living with IBD, Paparich took the information she gathered from her Northport Project’s informal survey and set out to get the attention of the medical community. And that’s exactly what happened. Introducing Dr. Joshua Korzenik, director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the man who Paparich got to pay attention to her findings.
“10 to 15 Times More IBD Than Expected to Be Seen…”
After Paparich got the attention of Dr. Korzenik, he put together a small health study, which he hopes to expand and get funding for eventually. For now, it will be a labor of love for him and his team. The study contained 119 current and former Northport residents. The results, 17 came back with having either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
What this means in terms of the bigger picture is that it’s a very high number – about 10 to 15 times higher than expected to be seen in a small population like Northport, said Dr. Korzenik. As for one of Dr. Korzenik’s fellow researchers, Dr. Sharyle Fowler, she said, “We should be expecting to see one or two cases for a town the size of Northport.”
There are also others in Northport with digestive tract issues, who have not officially received an IBD diagnosis at this time, like two of Clifford Ward’s children.
The End …
Through his preliminary research, Dr. Korzenik has already ruled out a genetic influence being linked to the potential Northport cluster. Yes, he believes it is a cluster. The genetic theory was discounted when results showed only a few individuals were related; like Jamie Paparich’s aunt and father.
Another thing the Harvard research team found interesting is that of the 17 people from the study confirmed to have IBD, seven of them live(d) along Mitchell Road. Yes, the very same road where Paparich’s family farm is located and area of farmland related to the landmark lawsuit.
While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis yet, much speculation circulates around environmental triggers since increases in diagnoses started after the industrial revolution took place. It is with this reasoning that if the IBD cluster can be confirmed, Dr. Korzenik believes Northport could hold the key to finally getting much needed answers.
What a great ending this could make — Northport, the town that helped cure Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.