In 2008, along with the non-profit group Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC), I began reaching out to past and present residents of Northport, WA. After a year of researching the Environmental Protecton Agency (EPA), Dpt. Of Ecology, Dpt of Health (DOH), and the Agency for Toxic Sustaces and Disease Registry (ATSDR) studies conducted in the Northport area, I discovered information so unthinkable I really didn’t believe it to be true at first. The studies of the U.S. Government Agencies, mentioned above, were of interest to me because they were in regards to the century of heavy metal toxins Teck Cominco had dumped into the Columbia River, and into our air. Teck Cominco, now Teck Resources, is a Canadian lead and zinc smelter located 7 miles from Northport, 3 miles upriver, in Trail, Bristish Columbia. The slag and air emissions they had sent our way are the by-products of the process Teck uses to smelter the lead and zinc ores. They contain heavy metal toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and sulfur dioxide, just to name a few.
What I discovered in these US agency investigations and reports is that since before 1940 thru 1997 Teck Resources dumped an estimated 9.8 million tons of slag (heavy metal toxins) directly into the Columbia River. This is the equivalence of a dump truck emptying 19 tons, every hour, for 60 years. 19 tons of poison AN HOUR was dumped into the Columbia River, everyday, for 60 years. The smelter found a free way to dispose of their waste and never so much as questioned the consequences their actions would have on the Columbia River, the environment, or on the health of the residents living in the small communities along the Columbia.
Do you know what else I discovered in the US Agencies investigations and reports? It was just as, if not more, alarming than what I discovered Teck had done. The EPA, Ecology, DOH, and ATSDR had discovered the accumulated toxins, and knew the danger they posed to residents in the area, as far back as the mid 1980’s. However, all their investigations concluded that more information would be needed for further research, And that the area posed an “intermediate health hazard”, but residents were “most likely” not in any immediate danger. Never once did any of the Government Agencies warn, or even tell, anyone living in Northport that they had been, and continued to be, chronically exposed to multiple heavy metal toxins, through multiple routes of exposure, for decades.
The DOH and the ATSDR did a human health assessment in 1994 on a small percentage of residents, because at a town meeting the community demanded they look into the health issues found in many of the residents. They took the blood of approx.. 22 children in Northport. They tested only for lead. They then spoke to the many residents suffering from Thuroid Diseases, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis/Chrone’s), Multiple Scoliosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Brain Tumors/Aneurisms, Brain, Stomach, Kidney, Pancreatic, Bladder, Breast, Eye Cancer and Leukemia. The ATSDR concluded that, although the amount of illnesses found was uncommonly high, further environmental investigations needed to be done by the EPA and Ecology before the DOH could proceed. Ecology completed four air monitoring phases by 1997, all four phases showed levels of cadmium to be higher than recommended safety levels, and arsenic was found to be 300 times higher than accepted safety levels. The DOH did no follow up on this information. And, again, residents were not even made aware of the results.
My Father grew up in Northport, along with his siblings and parents. They all suffer, or suffered, from one of the illnesses mentioned above.
The Government Agencies we count on to protect us, and defend us, let us down. They looked the other way for decades as Teck was allowed to dump 9.8 million tons of heavy metal toxins/poisons into our water, as well as the heavy metal toxins (arsenic, cadmium, sulphur dioxide) that they released into our air through their smoke stacks. Even worse, when they were backed into a corner to conduct studies on the impact the toxins had on our environment and health they looked away again. The people I have spoken to with specific knowledge on the subject believe the studies are designed to find in favor of the polluter. Especially when the polluter is in another country and a fight would cause a cross border litigation, which could back fire on the United States.
Finally, in 2006, Two members of the Pakootas Colville Tribe sued the EPA for inaction. The court ordered, under CERCLA/Superfund Laws, the EPA to immediately begin a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) and a Human Health Risk Assessment of the area. With, or without Teck Resources assistance.
They needed to be sued to be forced to do their jobs to protect us. These studies are still not complete. How many lives could have been saved if they would have done their jobs correctly from the beginning?
Not enough, according to Teck. An internal memo circulated among Teck management in 1982 that stated that the amount of toxins being dumped daily into the river, and specifically the recent accidental release of 6,630 pds of Mercury into the river, might pose as an issue for Teck down the line if safer guidelines were not put in place. The memo went on to say immediate action was not necessary because, currently the toxins were coming into contact with an “insignificant amount of people”. The insignificant people they are referring to are the residents of Northport.
So, Teck felt that the town of Northport, with only 375 residents, was simply insignificant in the grand scheme of things. 375 fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, sisters, and brothers…they were just not significant enough. The friends and family I have lost to these diseases were significant, I promise you that. The friends and family I continue to see suffer with these diseases; giving them basically no quality of life, they are significant.
So this is what led me to reach out to the CCC in 2008. Many of the resident who began this fight had passed away, or were still living with their debilitating illnesses, as they now watched their children and grandchildren being diagnosed with the same illnesses. With the assistance of the CCC, and the participation of residents, I conducted a community health survey on three generations of past and present Northport residents. From 2008-2009 I collected 321 questionnaires. The results of the questionnaires showed that, over three generations, 54 respondents had Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease (a very rare disease), 65 respondents had one of the cancers mentioned above, 23 respondents had brain aneurysms/tumors, 8 respondents had pulmonary embolism, 9 respondents had MS, and 13 respondents had Parkinson’s disease. These are just some of the health issues that were discovered. This may seem like a somewhat small amount. But in a population of 375 people these disease rates are all considered epidemiological health clusters by the scientific community. Meaning their exposure to some environmental factor(s) were most likely the trigger of these diseases, or at least played a significant role.
Since this health survey was done by residents, and not by the EPA, Ecology, DOH or the ATSDR, they had no interest in the results.
Luckily, the results of the survey caught the attention of Dr. Korzenik, a physician and researcher from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He agreed to bring his assistants up to Northport, and with the help of MGH, and Harvard University, he conducted his own study on his specialty, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. It bares mentioning he has done countless of these studies over the years. After months and months of walking door to door, calling, and emailing residents to complete his survey, gathering medical history, and mapping out the findings, he was ready to publish his results. He discovered that the health cluster of residents with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease found in Northport, WA was one of the biggest he had ever seen. It was 11.5 to 15% higher than would be expected. He also believed this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to study these diseases that currently have no cure, and are very rare and very misunderstood.
Dr. Korzenik and I shared the same hope. That once his study was published in a scientific journal we would get the attention needed to hold Teck responsible and use the suffering residents of Northport, who were more than willing, to take part in an epidemiological study on them and the area. Further studies could lead to information that could help cure, or at least prevent, people from getting Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease in the future. We also hoped the study would attract the attention of specialists in Multiple Scoliosis, Parkinson’s, specific Cancers, etc. This little town, that had suffered over three generations was willing to let themselves be poked and prodded in the hopes to save future generations from suffering the pain and anguish they had lived with. They didn’t want money, they didn’t want the smelter to be shut down, they just wanted to help. And they wanted their Government Agencies to help them, in forcing the smelter to cut their toxic releases to the levels their permits allowed.
As Dr. Korzenik worked on his study, and was shopping it around for publication, an excellent law firm from Seattle contacted me. They wanted all my research and I happily sent it on to then, along with the smoking guns…the US Agencies own published reports.
The law firm believed that, along with the real evidence, provided by Teck because of the Freedom of Information Act, the US Agencies lack of investigating, and the results and publication of Dr. Korzenik’s study, these long-suffering residents had a real shot at bringing a civil lawsuit against the multi million dollar smelter. Most of the residents were not that interested in joining the class action suit. They believed that no amount of money would bring back their loved ones, or the years their poor health had stolen from them. Also, they told me again and again…”you don’t stand a chance.” They told me, Teck is a Canadian company the US does not want to get into a cross border litigation with, and their pockets are very deep. They had been fighting this fight for decades. Since the first Northport farmers sued Teck in 1933 for their air emissions killing their livestock and crops, to the groups of residents who continued the fight since. My Grandparents were a part of the CCC, and apart of that fight. My Grandpa succumbed to Leukemia and my Grandma passed away because of Parkinson’s.
But these excellent lawyers believed in the case. The lawyer’s initial filing was accepted by the Court. Teck, of course, filed for the case to be dismissed. The Judge denied their request to dismiss the case, and said they would stand trial. This finally happened in January of 2015. 7 years after I began this journey, and 101 years after the smelter began using the Columbia River as their personal toxic dumping ground, and sending their toxic air emissions down wind to settle into the Northport valley.
We were getting closer than we had ever gotten. However, in May of 2015 I received a call from our lawyer. Dr. Korzenik’s compelling, and undeniably groundbreaking research paper had been suddenly denied publication in any scientific journal. Without this study being published, by the scientific community, they could not go forward with the lawsuit. And although Dr. Korzenik is still actively trying to get the study acknowledged in the scientific community, the law firm had no choice but to withdrawal the civil suit and let Teck walk again. The lawyers themselves indicated to me that it was very probable Teck played a role in getting the planned publication of the study squashed.
So after all the work of countless people it seems Teck wins again, for now. I did reach out to Teck and asked, since they had openly admitted in court, that they did in fact pollute the river as was reported, if they would consider funding annual check-ups, blood tests, and hair samples to monitor the heavy metal build up in residents, and to provide proactive exams to detect the diseases found in the area in residents. They declined, probably because they still refuse to admit there is any connection between the toxins they admit to dumping by the truckload for over 100 years, and the health issues found in the residents of Northport. Did I mention all the illnesses found in clusters in the residents have all been scientifically linked to chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins Teck has admitting been releasing for decades.
Please feel free to email me with any questions or ideas.
Thank you for taking the time to read this!
I am 48 years old and have worked in heavy industry for almost all those years.
I understand the emotional aspect of people contracting the diseases mentioned above but to make it out that Northport was somehow an exception is a bit naive.
My grandfather built tanks (shermans) in the Vancouver, BC iron works as a machinist.
He died in his 70’s from Parkinsons. The same metals you are talking about were present in the coolants, filings, particulate in the air, etc…. Nowadays they do things differently and have removed a lot of the exposure for the employees but how can we go back and correct the past, we can’t.
Cominco produced heavy water for the Manhattan Project and as such you know it was “damn the torpedoes full steam ahead” and at the time who would have said “lets take some time and do an environmental assessment”?
There are superfund sites all across the US and similar sites all across the globe due to the nature of our economic progress as a society. Cominco is no global monster on that scale. (go look up the “Love Canal” in New York – the toxic waste cleanup that started the EPA superfund)
We grow as people and as societies and our technology makes some of these issues things of the past.
Should California sue China for the “brown air” blowing in from the coast or maybe instead it should think about sending American jobs overseas to other countries that don’t care about health concerns for their workers or environmental damage. Those jobs used to be in the US but the very issues we are discussing about Cominco is the reason corporations are going overseas. Of course we could stop that but it would have to be with the political will to stop trade with China.
Are you willing to have all the dry goods in Wal-Mart go up by 50%? (Wal-Mart built trade with China)
Right now as we speak there are a 1000’s of Cominco’s in China spewing out environmental and health pollutants!
We the consumers demand for the products are what creates the Cominco’s of the world. Are we able or willing to give up these products?
Sometimes you actually have to be a little callous and face the facts.
Example: All these activist/protesters around the globe protesting fossil fuels while they enjoy electricity from coal/gas fired power generating stations, cars/trucks that run on petroleum and deliver there food and get them to their protests, planes that fly them around powered by petroleum.
Developing alternatives is great but needs to come with common sense.
We have benefited from petroleum greatly and as a society have to accept some of the problems that came with it.
Just like we benefited from the jobs and materials produced by the Cominco’s of the world. (just do the research on all the uses for the metals from smelters)
If Cominco was breaking the laws in Canada they should be punished by those laws and any pertinent international laws.
But to look at the practices that occurred 25-100 years ago and analyze them in light of what we are aware of today is unfair to those who labored so diligently to provide for their families and build the wealth of the society we enjoy today.
If it was possible (its not) would Northport residents turn time back to stop Cominco if it meant the US would not have developed nuclear weapons ahead of its enemies?
I respect your opinions and even agree with several of them. I also understand that Northport residents could come across as naive in thinking we are alone in being diagnosed with the cluster of diseases we have had.
But our town has 275 people. For three generations you take note in similar diagnosis’ on such a small scale. You suffer, or watch your family and/or friends suffer, from a disease such as Ulcerative Colitis that has no known cause or cure. Approximately 400 people out of 100,000 people throughout the United States are diagnosed with this life altering disease, so .4% of the population is impacted with it. Over 35 people have been diagnosed in our little town…..35 out of 375. That is 12.73% of “our” population. We don’t want money, we want the Government agencies to take notice and utilize our unfortunate situation to conduct epidemiological studies that would likely discover a connection of chronic, multiple route exposure to low levels of specific heavy metal toxins to these diseases. These studies could help find better ways to prevent, treat, and possibly even cure these diseases. The lawsuit was a step to get the EPA and the DOH to listen to us. And it worked. A research team from MGH/Harvard are conducting the second stage of a Crohn’s and Colitis study of the area.
I realize that we not only benefit from, but absolutely need, the products these industries produce. My family has been in mining as far back as my great grandfather on both my mother and fathers side. I worked at an above and underground gold mine. These companies are ALL capable of following the established guidelines of the amount of toxins they can safely emit, while maintaining a huge profit margin. Remedial and Feasibility studies and investigations conducted by the Government, Business Leaders and Scientists have been conducted to agree fairly on these decided upon regulations.
Between 1921 – 2005 – Teck released; 38,465 tonnes of Zinc, 22,688 tonnes of Lead, 1,225 tonnes of Arsenic, 1,103 tonnes of Cadmium, and 97 tonnes of Mercury through their air emissions, which model studies have showed flowed directly downriver and became entrapped in the Northport Valley.
Between 1906 – 1995 – Teck released; 1,314,00 tonnes of Lead, 4,434,750 tonnes of Cadmium, 302,250 tonnes of Mercury, and 525,600,000 tonnes of Zinc from slag dumped directly into the Columbia River.
This is equivalent to a dump truck emptying 19 tons of toxins into the river every hour for 60 years.
I realize Teck is located in another country, and just as we would not want to be held liable under another countries environmental laws, neither do they. However, when the Canadian Environmental Ministry actually told our EPA about some of the more alarming events (a 6,330 pound mercury spill in 1980) our Government agencies never so much as mentioned it to the community. When the 6 years of air monitoring conducted by the WA State Department of Ecology concluded that the levels of arsenic and cadmium in our air were 800 times higher than safety standards not one Northport resident was informed. We were not even given the chance to protect ourselves. One of the air monitors used in those studies sat on my Grandparent’s farm.
It is not money the residents of Northport are looking for. There is not enough money in the world to make up for the quality of life and LIVES that have been lost. We are looking for someone to listen. Unfortunately, the only way we have achieved that thus far is to file a lawsuit.
We DO NOT want to financially hurt Teck, and we do think what they do is necessary. They have installed environmental protection equipment and monitoring stations in the past decade. They also stopped dumping slag into the river in 1996, and are currently conducting remedial investigations and clean-up of our area. However, if the people who were being impacted by their past actions hadn’t spoke up they likely would have never done any of this. Which, by the way, has not effected their bottom line what-so-ever.
Just as I appreciate your thoughts and opinions, I hope you can appreciate mine.
The people who worked at Cominco also had their lives shortened and died of devastating diseases. However everyone’s parents and grandparents benefited from the products being manufactured there. We all freely purchased and used them, in spite of us and the environment being poisoned. We and our own personal greed are all to blame! Being one of those former employees with ill health who depends on them for a pension, I think it would be equally devastating to jeopardize those who currently have jobs and those who need that pension, which could happen if Teck is forced to pay out millions of dollars. Is it ethical to double-hurt your fellow humans in this scenario?
Hi Sharon – I completely understand your opinion, and agree with a majority of what you said. My family has been in the mining industry for many generations. I too worked at an underground mine. I realize mining is absolutely necessary, and supplies us so many things we simply couldn’t live without, not to mention all the jobs the industry provides. Many, many mines and smelters follow the EPA environmental guidelines which allows them to run a very profitable business and keep our environment and health safe.
Once the EPA regulations became law mines were given more than a decade to upgrade their systems (i.e. smoke stacks, forms of toxic deposit, release procedures, etc.) to comply. The expenses were a drop in the bucket to these massive corporations. Some have complied, many are still working on it.
It is NOT, NOT, NOT my intention to put Teck out of business, or cost anyone their jobs. Teck has actually spent millions upgrading their equipment since the late 1990’s and their emissions are much, much safer and better. They are also willingly working with the EPA and paying for investigations and clean up’s in our area right now.
As for suing Teck, that is not the point of The Northport Project. The point is for them to pay for the clean up of the millions of tons of heavy metal toxins they knowingly dumped into the Columbia River and into our air (documented by Teck; between 1940-1996 they admittedly dumped 450 tons of toxic metals a day into the river).
As for putting them out of business from the cost of a lawsuit or the clean-up costs? That is laughable. Teck Corporation (which operates and runs many mines and smelters across the Country) would not even feel the effect of these costs. The costs of these sort of things are actually built into mines annual budgets, because of situations like ours and the millions of dollars of fees they could be fined if they do not comply with US regulations.
What doesn’t have a cost? The many lives lost of not only Teck employee’s but of three generations of residents in our town. Those workers, and our community? We were never warned of the danger Teck and our EPA knew we were in for decades. We were never told, for example, the day Teck “accidentally” dumped 6,330 pounds of mercury into the river in 1982. We were never even given the option to move or help ourselves.
As for our personal greed being to blame, I do not agree with this. The personal greed you speak of was just the average joe, purchasing items they needed. It doesn’t occur to them/us that the items we are buying are made at a plant that between 1921 – 2005 – released; 38,465 tonnes of Zinc, 22,688 tonnes of Lead, 1,225 tonnes of Arsenic, 1,103 tonnes of Cadmium, and 97 tonnes of Mercury through their air emissions, which came directly down river and became trapped in the Northport Columbia River Valley. We didn’t know that between 1906 – 1995 – Teck released; 1,314,00 tonnes of Lead, 4,434,750 tonnes of Cadmium, 302,250 tonnes of Mercury, and 525,600,000 tonnes of Zinc from the slag dumped into the Columbia River.
These figures are from Teck’s documents, provided to residents in 2004 because of the freedom of information act.
I could list the friends and family members I have lost, or who live with debilitating health illnesses linked to chronic exposure to these toxins. I won’t, because it doesn’t change anything.
I honestly do appreciate your opinion. I just wanted to voice my opinion and explain where we are coming from.
not greed? dam rights its greed…it costs money to prevent or deal with this. It is still happening. I know what goes on behind the scenes and it is nothing but greed.
This is such a great summary of the battle Northport and you have fought. I still believe the underdog will prevail… Goonies never say die! 😉
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I am very sorry to hear this Jamie. I imagine you are devastated. I think it can and will still happen! They need to be held accountable ! Perhaps i can help …..
You friendly neighbourhood environmentman
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I am very sorry to hear this Jamie. I imagine you are devastated. I think it can and will still happen! They need to be held accountable ! Perhaps i can help …..
It sounds to me as if somebody was paid off. I can’t imagine a publishing company refusing a controversial report unless they were told that things would be bad for them. We know that there are Congress persons that believe the companies are more important than her…errr their constituants.
The bright side is that when the report is published, the suit can go forward. There would not be any double jeopardy from trying them twice.