Ninth Circuit rules in favor of Teck smelter on liability claim

Original article published at Lake Roosevelt Forum, http://www.lrf.org

A three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that aerial deposition from the Teck smelter in Trail, Canada does not constitute “disposal.” As such, Teck cannot be held liable for hazardous substances such as lead, arsenic and mercury emitted from Trail smoke stacks that traveled through the atmosphere and then deposited in the Upper Columbia Valley. Washington State and the Colville Confederated Tribes brought the case to hold Teck liable for cleanup costs and natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA (also known as superfund).

The court relied heavily on two precedents that parse the meaning of “disposal of waste” under CERCLA. In one of the precedents, the ninth circuit ruled that BNSF Railway emitting diesel particulate matter into the air that resettled onto the land and water did not constitute disposal of waste and thus not subject to liability under CERCLA.

News reports indicate plaintiffs will petition for a new hearing before the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Potentially, the case could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under terms of a 2006 settlement agreement between EPA and Teck, Teck has funded soil sampling and remediation related to atmospheric deposition in the Upper Columbia Valley. In 2014, EPA sampled 74 residential properties which led to cleanup on 14 properties. This year, 142 property owners granted access for soil sampling that begins this month.

Click here for a National Law Review article reviewing the case and its implications.

Documentary makers visit Northport- view clips from filming

What began as a class project for Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson, two professors from Evergreen State College, grew into a multi-media project documenting the experiences of three communities with prolonged relationships with the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO).

Through research, film, photography, oral history, analytical writing, a website, and a documentary, Their Mines, Our Stories document the experiences and struggles of these communities, left to deal with the fallout of ASARCO smelter’s decades of unregulated pollution once they closed their doors and filed for bankruptcy.

Through their shared conditions, these communities are fighting to strengthen policy framework, pollution control laws, regulations and emission standards.
Anne and Lin are reaching out to other communities impacted by industrial pollution, struggling to find answers, assistance, and solutions from the polluters and their state and federal agencies.

This is what brought them to Northport. In May Anne and Lin met with Northport community members at the high school, where we screened their documentary “Under the Smoke Stack.” After the screening Carlos Martinez, a community advocate from Smeltertown in El Paso, TX, called in and we shared our experiences dealing with the polluters, the EPA, and the changes that needed to be made to benefit small communities going forward. We all agreed that if small communities like ours worked together we could create a larger information network.

The following day they filmed interviews with several residents, who shared their stories of how decades of exposure to toxic pollution had impacted their lives. Clips from these interviews can be viewed at: Vimeo – Northport, WA clips. (Click to view)  

The difficulties small communities, impacted by big polluters, face is our size makes us easy to overlook.

However, if we work with other small communities like ours we will become bigger, our voices will become louder, and we will become harder to overlook. With a stronger voice we can work together to make positive changes to impact and strengthen policy, regulations, and environmental health laws.

To read more about Their Mines, Our Stories: Work, Environment and Justice in ASARCO- Impacted Communities visit Anne and Lin’s website at:  http://www.theirminesourstories.org/

The Death List

In 1992 reporter Julie Titone wrote an article in the Spokesman-Review, “Canadian companies suspected in illnesses.”  The article focused on a group of mothers in Northport, Washington and the health effects their small community suffered from because of, in their opinion, chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins released by a Canadian smelter 3 miles up river, Teck Cominco.

The article begins with neighbors Naomi Palm, Faye Jackman, and Kay Paparich sitting in Naomi’s kitchen. In front of Naomi was her hand written notes of a health survey the women conducted in the community.  The notes listed the similar illnesses her and all her neighbors, family, and friends suffered from.  Naomi called it her “death list”.  The list contained 45 previous residents who passed away from four types of cancer, and 163 residents all suffering from similar diseases. In a town of 375 people the list was alarming, to say the least.

At the time of the article the small community was paralyzed with fear. Children continued to be diagnosed with two rare intestinal diseases, friends and neighbors were passing away from brain aneurisms or tumors, cancer, or suffering from the debilitating effects of multiple scoliosis and parkinson’s disease.

The town first became aware of the startling amount of illnesses being diagnosed in the community in the late 1970’s.  After repeated requests, the Washington State Department of Health finally did a health investigation in 1988.  However, the health investigator who conducted the investigation left the department and the findings were never made public.

So in 1991 these determined women began conducting their own health survey of the community.  After months of knocking on doors they compiled the information their neighbors had provided.  They discovered that of the 7 families living along Mitchell Road, all living within a 2 mile radius of each other, fifteen children had been diagnosed with 2 rare auto immune diseases, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. At the time of the survey approximately 1 in 100,000 people were diagnosed with either Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s in the United States.

The woman also discovered that of the six families living along Waneta Road, across the Columbia River from Mitchell Road, 12 people had died, or suffered from, brain aneurisms or brain tumors.  Statistically 8-10 people out of 100,000 people suffer from a brain aneurism in the United States.    

Naomi mapped out the illnesses collected from their survey in an attempt to understand if their route of exposure to the smelter’s toxins might be the common denominator effecting their families with these rare illnesses.  Their exposures differed in many ways. Not everyone swam in the river, not everyone grew their own gardens, or ate the fish…..but the one common denominator quickly became clear.  It was the air.  The families all lived in a valley, next to the Columbia River.  The pollution flowing north from the smelter often got trapped in the valley walls.

Two months after the 1992 article was published the Washington State Department of Ecology began the first of four phases of air monitoring in the area.  The results of all four phases of the monitoring showed that levels of arsenic were 200 times higher than national safety standards, and levels of cadmium were 18 times higher.  Ecology issued the smelter a warning that continuous air monitoring of the area was necessary.  The residents of Northport were never made aware of these results.  Teck did continue to monitor the air until 2006, according to EPA documents.  The levels of arsenic and cadmium continued to exceed safety standards at the same rate.

The 1992 article ended with Kay Paparich voicing her concern for future generations of Northport residents, “It’s too late for my children because they’ve already got these problems, but what about the little ones coming up?”

“The little ones coming up”, that Kay was so concerned about in 1992, are now in their 20’s and 30’s, suffering from the same illnesses that these women discussed in Naomi’s kitchen 24 years ago.

In 2009 residents conducted another community health survey of past and present Northport residents.  The results mirrored those of the 1991 community health survey, and confirmed Kay’s concerns were valid.  Not only were residents still being diagnosed with the same health issues, at the same rate, reported cases of multiple scoliosis, Parkinson’s and cases of the four types of cancers of concern had increased.

What these women discovered by coming together and using plain common sense, took government agencies decades, and millions of dollars, to finally realize.  The agencies were able to negotiate with the smelter to remove contaminated soil from beaches along the Columbia River, residential property, and upland soil.  However, the air still continues to be ignored.  If the smelter is monitoring it, they are no longer sharing the results with our government agencies, and our government agencies are not monitoring it.

The 1936 USDA Forest Damage Air Modeling Study, the EPA decade long remedial investigation, Ecology’s air monitoring, soil and wetland studies, The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), and Teck’s own remedial investigation, have all confirmed that the primary source of contamination of the Upper Columbia River area is Teck Resources.  More specifically, Teck’s aerial dispersion of heavy metal toxins, through their smoke stakes, is the primary source of contamination.

EPA project manager Laura Buelow stated, “(T)he data shows that the soil became contaminated from historical smelting operations at the Trail smelter, specifically the metals coming out of the smelter stacks (air).”

To simplify the point;  between 1921-2005 Teck smelter released; 38,465 tons of Zinc, 22,688 tons of Lead, 1,225 tons of Arsenic, 1,103 tons of Cadmium, and 97 tons of Mercury through their air emissions.

Teck’s air emissions have poisoned over three generations of Northport residents.  Still nothing is being done to protect the next three generations, or the generations after that.

Jamie Paparich

Documentary/Activists – Meeting THIS Saturday in Northport

REMINDER:  The group with Their Mines, Our Stories: Work, Environment and Justice in ASARCO-Impacted Communities will be visiting Northport this weekend.

Through research, film, photography, oral history and analytical writing, they are documenting communities located near smelters, struggling with the impacts of decades of pollution on their environment and health.

Their goal is to explore “how communities, through dedicated and strategic networking around shared conditions, have sought to impact and strengthen the policy frameworks that shape environmental and occupational health.”

Please join us THIS Saturday, May 28th at 2:00 p.m., at the Northport High School, to participate in a meeting to hear about the group’s impressive work.  It is their hope we can all work together to make positive changes in laws and regulation that will allow the industry to continue to operate successfully, but protect the health and environment for future generations.

They will also be filming Northport residents, interested in sharing their stories, on Sunday, May 29th.  More information about this will be addressed at the meeting Saturday.

 

MEETING INFORMATION

DATE:   Saturday, May 28th

TIME:   2:00 p.m.

LOCATION:   Northport High School

 

 

Northport Museum -Open Saturday

The museum will be open on Saturday from noon to 4pm. Please come see our little museum and learn about our town’s colorful history. I will come up with a map to give you a short self-guided tour of historic sites.

–  Jael Regis,  Northport, WA Historical Society

NORTHPORT, WA HISTORIC SOCIETY

Follow the Northport Historical Society Facebook page!  This group is insuring the history of Northport and its people is preserved and accessible to everyone.

Northport Residents – Meeting with multi-media project “Their Mines, Our Stories” – May 28th

Their Mines, Our Stories, is a multi-media project started by two professors from the Evergreen State College. Anne Fischel (Media and Community Studies) and Lin Nelson (Environmental Health and Community Studies) began this project by documenting the experiences of individuals in communities who worked at, and/or lived close to, one of the ASARCO smelters. ASARCO is the largest polluter in the United States and is responsible for 20 Superfund sites.

Their project grew to involve research, film, photography, oral history, analytical writing, a website and a documentary sharing the experiences and struggles of people in Ruston/Tacoma, WA; Hayden, AZ, and El Paso, TX. The project focuses on the complexity of the relationship between communities who relied on ASARCO for employment, while later discovering the smelter was poisoning them at work with unsafe working conditions, and impacting their families health and safety from their massive, unregulated pollution. All this and then fighting with the EPA and other government agencies to help protect them.

Anne and Lin, as well as Carlos Martinez, a representative of the Smeltertown community in El Paso, will be visiting Northport Saturday, May 28th. There will be an informal meeting with the group at Northport High School, Saturday, May 28th at 2:00 p.m.. We will discuss our similar experiences, share ideas and strategies on how small communities impacted by big polluters can come together and create a larger information network and make positive changes, as well as “impact and strengthen the policy frameworks that shape environmental…health.”

We will also be screening their documentary; “Under the Smoke Stack.”

Anne would also like to film interviews with any Northport residents interested in sharing their stories.  She will provide me with the edited filming she completes to share on our website and attract the attention of documentary makers.  If you would like to share your story on video we will be filming those Sunday, May 29th.

If you are interested in attending the meeting and/or being interviewed on film please e-mail me a short note letting me know so I can have an accurate head count.
E-mail: Northportproject@hotmail.com

“Their Mines, Our Stories” – Northport Meeting
Date:          Saturday, May 28th
Time:          2:00 p.m.
Location:   Northport High School

Filming interviews with residents
Date:          Sunday, May 29th
Time:         TBA
Location:   Paparich Farm (4598 Mitchell Road)

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