by Jamie Paparich
In 2008 I began looking into the decades of toxins the Canadian smelter, Teck, had been allowed to dispose of into Northport’s air, water and soil, literally slowly poisoning us. The further I looked into it the more disillusioned I became with our Government agencies, specifically the EPA, the ATSDR, and the DOH. There was one agencies that surprised me.
The WA State Dpt. of Ecology represents the state of Washington in working with Tribal, federal, and local government organizations who are addressing long-term concerns over the smelter’s contamination, on cleanup and community outreach.
Ecology has conducted eleven independent studies in our area evaluating smelter contamination between 1992 through 2017. The Dpt. of Ecology surprised me because their studies were scientifically, technically, and logically well thought out and conducted with total accuracy. The most significant difference between Ecology’s studies, as compared to the other agencies, was simple; they were ethical and honest. They did not slant their results, or blame “data gaps” as a recurring reason as to why their studies could not be completed, and they did not manipulate the wording to make it seem the results of their research was not something Northport residents, Teck, or their own agencies should be concerned with; referring to Northport as an “intermediate health hazard”.
Ecology’s assessment state the facts, the actual levels of toxins found, and the dangers they pose to residents who are chronically exposed to these levels.
Ecology has proven again and again they worked for us, to protect us.
In the 4 air monitoring studies they conducted between 1992-1998 each of the studies concluded that levels of arsenic and cadmium were consistently found to be way above the Acceptable Source Impact Level (ASIL) set by the EPA. Ecology provided their findings to the EPA because Ecology conducted these studies to provide the EPA with information as to whether or not they should allow Teck a renewed air permit for a new source (Kivcet smelter.) Although Ecology’s results provided accurate reasons not to allow Teck a new air permit. Instead, the EPA approved the new permit and Ecology’s air monitoring results were never discussed or shared with anyone, including the residents being impacted by the air.
In 2007 Ecology sampled sediments in Lake Roosevelt and the upper Columbia River. Their results concluded that widespread industrial slag could forensically be tied to Teck Resources, and that it had contaminated the soil and water from Lake Roosevelt, up through the Columbia River to the Canadian border. In 2006 Teck, under the supervision of the EPA, began a remedial investigation of the area. The study is still ongoing. What the EPA and Teck have been able to accomplish from an eleven year study is not a fraction of what Ecology’s 2007 study accomplished.
In 2012 Ecology conducted soil and sediment sampling in upland, non residential areas. Teck, and the EPA, were conducting similar testing. The levels of lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and mercury Ecology discovered were so high they petitioned the EPA to fast track sampling of residential soil, fearing residents exposed to these heavy metals at levels this high, specifically children, were in more danger than originally thought.
The EPA pushed Ecology’s petition through and Teck conducted sampling of 74 properties in 2014 and removed contaminated soil from 14 residential properties and 1 tribal allotment in 2015. In 2016 they began a second round of residential property soil sampling. The results of this sampling has not been published. This would not have been accomplished without Ecology.
Residents of Northport have long worried that it is the air that continues to trigger the several, rare health issues a large majority of residents have been diagnosed with. When Teck began their remedial investigation, under EPA supervision, we requested air monitoring again and again. It was always pushed to the back burner, or we were told there was no funding, or no evidence to support more monitoring was needed….even though the monitoring done of the air by Ecology between 1992-1998 showed levels of arsenic 200 times higher than safety standards, and levels of cadmium were 18 times higher than safety standards.
In working with the Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC), Ecology listened to our concerns and agreed with them. They explained that there were so many old studies to go through, dating as far back as 1931, and so many missing years not monitored, that it would be a difficult analysis to conduct. After discovering Teck had an air monitor in Northport from 1992 – 2009 they requested those monitoring results. They then collected results of air monitoring Teck had collected near the Canadian border from 2007-2014. Armed with studies done on our air in 1931, from 1992 through 2007, and the border monitoring through 2014, Ecology asked their Air Quality Program specialists to use this data to evaluate conditions in the upper Columbia River valley and assess whether more air monitoring is needed.
Based on their assessment, they concluded additional air monitoring in the upper Columbia River valley is necessary.
Ecology will now share their analysis with the EPA and Teck, requesting additional air monitoring be done as a part of their remedial investigation evaluating the smelter-related pollution impacts done to our environment and health.
If the EPA and Teck agree to this Ecology would work with the EPA and public health officials to further assess health concerns once the additional monitoring is performed and data is collected. Ecology expects EPA would use the data to inform a human health risk assessment.
Without this data the human health risk assessment the EPA is required to conduct of the area would be no different than the assessments the DOH and the ATSDR conducted in 2004, invaluable, inaccurate, and a waste of more time and money.
Northport residents who continue to be diagnosed with the rare, similar health issues that plagued the two generations before them do not have any more time to waste.
A special thank you to The Washington State Department of Ecology, specifically John Roland and Chuck Gruenenfelder.
“An underdog never loses, they find a different way to win the fight.”