Northport WA Colitis/Crohn’s Study – Focus on Smelter Pollution – Spokesman Examiner (Feb 2011)

Study tracks reasons behind high rate of illness near Northport

Focus is area downstream from B.C. smelter

Dan Pelle photo

Gail Leaden was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, as was her friend on the right in the photograph. Both women used to live in Northport, Wash. Some suspect that emissions from a Trail, B.C., smelter contributed to their health problems.

Becky Kramer The Spokesman-Review

February 6, 2011 – Updated: February 13, 5:24 p.m.

Gail Leaden was 5 when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In high school, Leaden’s best friend in the small town of Northport, Wash., was diagnosed with the same illness.

She always found the coincidence odd.

“It’s not a common disease to begin with,” said Leaden, 25, who now lives in Spokane. “How ironic that my best friend gets it.”

More than 50 residents or former residents of Northport say they’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, two types of inflammatory bowel disease. Some suspect that their health problems are tied to decades of industrial emissions from a smelter in Trail, B.C. An upcoming study may eventually provide answers.

Two doctors from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital are looking into reports of high rates of bowel disease in Northport, a town of 330 near the Canadian border. In the general population, about 4 people per thousand are diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis.

“We should be expecting to see one or two cases for a town the size of Northport,” said Dr. Sharyle Fowler, who will be working on the study.

The disease cluster, if it can be confirmed, could shed light on triggers for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, said Dr. Josh Korzenik, director of Massachusetts General’s Crohn’s and Colitis Center. No one knows what causes the diseases, which affect 1.5 million Americans, but both appear to have genetic and environmental contributors.

“We were drawn to this because it’s an unusual cluster, or potential cluster, in a small population,” Korzenik said. “It offers us both a potential opportunity to help the people of Northport, as well as a much broader group of people, by understanding some of the environmental components that may lead to these diseases.”

Rates of Crohn’s disease and colitis are on the upswing in industrialized countries. People with the disease often have persistent abdominal pain and diarrhea. Surgery is sometimes required.

The doctors’ first step is to determine whether they can confirm anecdotal reports of a disease cluster. They’ll send out health questionnaires to current and past Northport residents. They’ll also ask people’s permission to review medical records.

“If there is an increased risk of these diseases in Northport, this may be the first step of a longer pursuit of trying to understand why,” Korzenik said.

Future studies could look at pollution exposure to see if it correlates to illness rates, he said. Or, the studies might investigate whether Northport has an unusual, but genetically explained cluster, he added.

That type of testing would require research funding. At this point, Korzenik said, the health questionnaire is a “sweat equity” effort by the two doctors, who were intrigued by health histories collected by local volunteers. About 320 current and former Northport residents provided health information. Thirty-six said they had ulcerative colitis; 18 said they had Crohn’s disease.

Smelter stopped dumping slag in ’95

Jamie Paparich suspects a link to the smelter. Her grandparents raised six children on a farm outside of Northport, about 15 miles downwind and downstream of the smelter owned by Teck Resources Ltd. For decades, the century-old smelter released tons of pollution daily into the air and the Columbia River, including mercury and other heavy metals.

The Washington Department of Health put an air monitoring station on the Paparich property. Through the 1990s, it recorded elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium, said Paparich, who lives in Nevada.

Both her dad and her aunt, who grew up on the farm, were diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. They ate vegetables from the family’s garden and swam in the Columbia River. As the disease progressed, both siblings had their colons removed.

Two neighboring families also had children with colitis and Crohn’s disease, said Rose Kalamarides, Paparich’s 54-year-old aunt.

The families “weren’t related by any stretch, yet we all had these same problems,” said Kalamarides, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

In the early 1990s, the state Department of Health found significantly higher rates of hospitalization for inflammatory bowel disease in Stevens County and adjacent counties compared with the rest of the state.

A few years later, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry prepared a Northport public health assessment. Results were inconclusive, but the study generally found that pollution didn’t reach concentrations known to cause health problems.

“Our understanding is that these studies have not linked the elevated incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases … with any specific causes,” said Richard Deane, Teck’s manager of energy and public affairs.

Another study done in Trail, B.C., didn’t find higher hospitalization rates for bowel disease compared with the rest of the region. That study was done in 1994 for the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Deane said the smelter has cleaned up its act. In 1995, the smelter stopped dumping slag, a byproduct of the smelting process, into the Columbia River. Slag contains 25 compounds, including heavy metals. The smelter also halted production of phosphate fertilizer, reducing mercury releases into the river.

Heavy metals releases into the air and water have dropped by 95 percent as Teck has invested in upgrading the smelter, Deane said. Through an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Teck also is paying for a multiyear study of pollution in the upper Columbia. The studies will look at current contaminant levels and whether they pose threats to people or wildlife.

“Those studies will cover Northport,” Deane said.

‘Something’s not right’

Northport residents, however, have long lobbied for epidemiology studies, which would take a closer look at disease rates.

Paparich got active in the effort three years ago, after stumbling across the air monitoring results for her grandparents’ farm. She contacted the national Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation last year, which put her in touch with Korzenik and Fowler.

She hopes that Northport can lead researchers closer to detecting the illnesses’ cause. Bowel disease is “an embarrassing, hard, painful illness,” Paparich said. “It really affects people’s quality of life.”

Said Kalamarides, Paparich’s aunt, “I’m curious whether anyone can really establish what happened.”

Though Kalamarides lives in Alaska, she returns to Northport frequently to visit her mother. She admits to feeling some trepidation about the controversy the study could unleash in Northport, which has close ties to Trail.

“Trail is a company town. A lot of people get real defensive because it could affect their livelihood,” Kalamarides said. “Even those of us who experienced the illness – I use a catheter to use the bathroom – are sensitive about it.”

Northport resident Barb Anderson thinks the community needs answers.

“I was counting up all the people I know with Crohn’s disease and colitis just the other day,” she said. “I came up with 15 people.”

The list includes her daughter, Kelsey Anderson, a graduate student in Seattle. Kelsey – Gail Leaden’s friend – was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis during her junior year of high school. At Rockwood Clinic in Spokane, where the diagnosis was made, doctors were surprised that two of Kelsey’s classmates had the same illness, said Barb Anderson. Leaden also remains troubled by the coincidence. It makes her suspect “that something’s not right.”

“I hope they can find an answer,” she said. “Was there a cause behind it, or was it a fluke?”

Four commentsAdd comment

  • rosehips at 7:39 a.m. Feb 6:

    Will Northport finally get answers we’ve been asking for years? Let’s hope so. There is a reason for this cluster and the people of Northport deserve to know why, even if it will be uncomfortable for relations with the Trail community. Let’s hope that the people of Northport will support this effort to find out what is making people sick. Shouldn’t we know the truth so we can know the risks?

    Great job Jamie Paparich for making this study happen!

  • greenlibertarian at 12:48 p.m. Feb 6:

    I remember being aghast when I first saw those slag piles on the Columbia River, had no idea, was just sight-seeing on a road trip to Canada back in the early 90’s and that gruesome sight as well as the belching stinking Cominco plant just blew me away. Disgusting. Have no doubt that’s the proximate cause of the health problems in that area.

  • oneanddone at 2:16 p.m. Feb 6:

    Hey SR Editors,
    How about establishing a process whereby anyone who is accurately reported for posting an ad or talking off topic immediately has their name and email blocked here to fore – such as marymoss6. Granted there are work arounds but it will be painful. No one wants these morons posting.

  • northportproject at 5:24 p.m. Feb 13:

    ATTN: Past & Present Northport Residents diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s
    Disease, Diverticulitis, Ileitis, or any otherInflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

    RE: Contact Information to Receive Survey for Epidemiological Study Conducted
    by Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America

    As mentioned in Becky Kramer’s excellent article; Dr. Josh Korzenik and Dr. Sharyle Folwer from Massachusetts General Hospital’s, in cooperation
    of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, received the funding and approval to conduct
    an epidemiological study of Northport residents, both current and past, who have been
    diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, crohn’s, or any other IBD disease.

    This is a ground breaking study, which countless concerned groups and residents have spent
    decades fighting to get done. The results of this study can prevent future generations from the
    pain and suffering of the illnesses mentioned above, as well as finding better ways to treat, or
    even cure, them.

    All that is required from participants who are eligible for the study is to complete a simple online
    survey (or have the survey mailed to you).

    The survey includes questions that will assist them in discovering similarities of impacted
    residents, (such as age, diet, use of river, period of time exposed, as well as family health history
    and lifestyle, etc.)

    All information provided will be confidential and seen only by Dr. Fowler and Dr. Korzenik. You
    may be contacted for your medical record regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the colitis
    (crohn’s, etc.). If you do not have these records, or are unable to locate them, they will do the
    legwork for you based on details you can provide (city, state, year diagnosed).

    Eligible Participants:
    Anyone who does, or did, live in or near Northport, WA, for any length of time, and have been
    diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Diverticulitis, Iileitis, or any other IBD.

    Contact Information Needed from Participants – ASAP**
    Please send either your e-mail or home address, (depending on where you would like to receive
    the survey), to or

    If you are unable to send it via e-mail please mail your address to: J.Paparich 5013 Snowy Mtn.
    Drive Winnemucca, NV 89445 or call me at 775.750.6384.
    This information is needed as soon as possible.

    Please pass this information on to anyone you know who may be eligible for this study. If you
    have a deceased family member who suffered from any of the illnesses please complete a
    study for them.

    It will only take a few minutes of your time to complete this survey that could help countless
    people from the pain and suffering you have had to endure.
    Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns at 775.750.6384 or

    For more information on the Northport Project go to:
    Thank you so much for your participation!
    Jamie Paparich

11 thoughts on “Northport WA Colitis/Crohn’s Study – Focus on Smelter Pollution – Spokesman Examiner (Feb 2011)

Add yours

  1. There are so many pollutants out there causing terrible illnesses. Not just that, but unsafe materials are being used everywhere. I saw here that some places still use asbestos, and that has been linked to many lung related illnesses. I don’t know what it’ll take to remedy these issues, but something has to happen.


  2. My family is from Trail BC and we have a family member diagnosed with Polymyositis, a rare disease that affects less than 5/1,000,000 people. We know of at least one other person from the Trail area with the same disease. Do you know of any other people from the area affected by a type of myositis? If so, please let me know as we would like to look into the correlation further.


    1. Hi Vicki –
      I apologize for my delay in responding to you. I am very interested in finding out more about the health cluster of Polymyositis and Colitis in Trail residents.
      Of all the research I have done regarding health issues found in Northport residents oddly enough I never came across Polymyositis! It has taken me so long to get back to you because I have been researching it. It sounds like it is somewhat of an “umbrella” diagnosis for many of the cancers and other health issues that plague Northport residents as well.
      Many of the symptoms are almost identical to arsenic, mercury, lead, manganese and cadmium toxicity (chronic exposure).

      One resident of Northport in particular came to mind when I began reading more about Polymyositis. I contacted him and he is going to schedule an appointment with his physician.

      If you could answer a few questions for me I would really appreciate it?
      1) How many people do you suspect might have Polymyositis? (Meaning they have not been diagnosed, and may not even have mentioned it to anyone but you have seen them display or complain of similar symptoms)

      2) How many people do you know who have symptoms of, or have been diagnosed with, Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis? (Or any other Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

      3) Did you, your family, or anyone you know take part in the human health risk assessments done by Teck Cominco (now Teck Resources)?
      **See attached a summary of the final phase 4 Human Health Risk Assessment by Teck Cominco**

      4) What, if any, warnings, communication, etc. have been displayed by Teck to the residents of Trail over the years?

      5) Do you know of any other health issues, diseases (specifically autoimmune), or cancers that seem to be diagnosed more frequently than normal in Trail residents?

      6) Has anyone asked for a meeting with Teck regarding the health issues you mentioned? If so have they responded to this request?

      7) In your voice message you mentioned you had been in contact with a lawyer, did the lawyer provide you any valuable information regarding a possible civil or citizen suit Trail residents could file against Teck Resources?

      Any other info you can provide is so helpful! I will forward you the most recent summary on the health questionnaires (I started sending out to past and present Northport residents in 2009, and continue to receive completed ones weekly.)

      Per the National Cluster Alliance Guidelines the rates of the following diseases diagnosed in past and present Northport residents are considered to be clusters (please let me know if you know of any Trail residents who also have been diagnosed with any of these):
      – Multiple Scoliosis
      – Parkinson’s
      – Cancers: Uterine, bladder, skin, stomach, prostate, colon, breast,kidney
      – Brain tumors/aneurisms
      – Thyroid diseases
      – Arthritis (early onset, rheumatoid, etc.)
      – Ulcerative Colitis
      – Crohn’s Disease
      – Manganese Toxicity

      Recently 2 physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Crohn’s and Colitis Center began an IBD study of Northport residents (past and present) diagnosed with Crohn’s and Colitis. Phase I began in February of this year. A survey created by the physicians for a site specific study of Northport was created and distributed to past and present residents. From the results of these surveys the physicians were able to conclude the same thing the DOH and EPA found in 1994, there is a health cluster of diagnosed cases of Crohn’s and Colitis in current Northport residents.
      They are now writing the abstract on phase 1 of this study, which will lead to a manuscript of their findings, which will hopefully lead to more attention and interest in the medical research community and therefore more funding to move forward with a full scale epidemiological study.
      If you could provide me with as much information as possible, regarding residents in and around Trail B.C. (past and present) who have been diagnosed with either Crohn’s or Colitis I will pass this information along to the physicians at MGH who are interested in creating a similar study of your area, or possibly expanding the current Northport study to include Trail residents as well.

      Also, I just realized (by your e-mail address) you were kind enough to donate to our small project. I cannot thank you enough. First, for taking the time to contact me and offering to help with this fight and second, for the generous donation. Thank you so much!

      I look forward to working with you!

      Jamie Paparich


  3. Your article was most enlightening and addressed an illnes that has affected our family for over 4o years.
    My husband, Raymond was born and raised in Trail BC. He received his official diagnoses of Chrohn’s Disease in the early “70’s”, although he suuffered from the symptoms since he was a young man. Our eldest daughter who was born in Trail also suuffers from the debilitating symptoms of Chrohns. I myself suffer from Colitis. I am wondering, if perhaps, the investigation should be widened?
    Thank you for allowing me a forum to express my concerns.
    Respectfully, Georgine Melatini


    1. I am so sorry to hear about your families health issues – Teck claimed they did a health risk assessment about 10 years ago. They concluded, (of course), that no clusters of any health issues were found. However, you are one of several people living in Trail who have contacted me regarding crohn’s and colitis.

      I am currently preparing questionnaires for Kettle Falls & Marcus, as I have gotten several requests from resident living in these areas with crohn’s and colitis. I would be more than willing to send the residents of Trail questionnaires as well.
      I recently spoke to Dr. Fowler and Dr. Korzinik, (the doctors who are currently conducting the crohn’s & colitis study in Northport), regarding my decision to send questionnaires to residents of Kettle Falls & Marcus based on the volume of responses I received after the article on the Northport study came out. They said, (based on the amount of responses I get back), that they would be very interested in possibly expanding the current study to include the residents in these communities diagnosed with crohn’s or colitis!

      If you would like me to e-mail you more info please feel free to contact me at Also, please feel free to give my e-mail to anyone who may be interested in receiving a questionnaire. The questionnaire covers not only questions regarding crohn’s and colitis but several other health issues found at a higher than normal rate in our area.
      Other health issues that are being looked at as possible cluster studies are; Parkinson’s, Multiple Scoliosis, Brain Tumors/Aneurysms, Thyroid Diseases and Arthritis.

      Thank you for sharing your families story, I hope we can get the research and studies done to help future generations avoid the needless pain and suffering you and our family, and so many others, have experienced.

      Jamie Paparich

      Thank you for taking the time to share your story!


  4. Allison Wright Willis, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO and leader of an ananlysis of data on 35,000 Medicare patients, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology a recent study that found long-term residents of areas with industries that emit high levels of manganese have a 78% increased risk for Parkinson’s. Manganese is one of the minerals in the Red Dog ore coming from Alaska, which Teck-Cominco is smelting. May have been in ores they smelted years ago too.


    1. Yes!!
      See the National Pollutant Release Inventory Discharged History for Teck (1994-2009)on Environment Canadas website:

      In 1995 & 1996 – they released 12 & 17 tonnes of manganese on site (into environment). The years they do not show (1930-1993) were most likely that high, if not higher. The releases do decrease after 1996 (due to the installation of the Kivcet Smelter), but are still way above EPA’s NOAEL recommended safety limits.

      Under the Off-Site disposal column for 2002, 2003 & 2004 – the 263, 276 and 358 tonnes of manganese are from Teck’s leaks or spills of manganese…this is in addition to their annual discharges of manganese.

      More info for Teck’s Discharge History is available at Environment Canada ( under the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI Data Search). Teck’s NPRI ID: 3802

      There have also been recent studies done linking chronic manganese exposure to Multiple Scoliosis.
      Both Parkinson’s and MS have been diagnosed in Northport residents at an elevated rate –


  5. You deserved so much more credit than the article conveyed. I watch you work tirelessly tring to help others. Many truly do know the impacts your selfless efforts are having.


  6. Becky didn’t get the essence of my comments. I was trying to explain the concern that Northport residents have for our neighbors in Trail. When the issue of pollution was discussed when I was in high school, Cominco’s response was to announce the possible closure of the smelter. Moving the operation to a foreign country with no enviromental controls and lower labor costs was their solution to the discussion on their pollution. This terrified the people of Trail, many of whom got defensive with the idea that their lives could be forever altered by a closure. I also remember discussions with smelter workers around my parent’s kitchen table about the brass at Cominco telling the night shift to by-pass the scrubbers–thereby increasing production. The scrubbers were the mechanisms added to the stacks to clean some of the toxins from the smelting fumes. Cominco has not been a good neighbor and was very slow to react. I don’t think the people of Trail would want their economic concerns placed above the health concerns of their neighbors and, with that said, I don’t think the residents in Northport want to see the smelter operation shut down. I want Teck-Cominco run its responsibly with as little an impact to the environment as possible. My point to Becky with the Spokesman is that there are conflicting emotions with all this. I am positive that Cominco’s pollution caused the illness in Northport. But, like some murders, it may be difficult to prove. I am incredibly proud of Jamie and the work she has done to bring this to light. If nothing else, she has left little doubt that Cominco’s pollution has damaged an entire community. They took way too long in taking responsibility and making necessary changes. I wonder how much more they can do to cut down on the toxins going into the air.


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