(By Colin Haffner/Chewelah Independent)
Agency feels risk from outdoor air in Northport is low…
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has denied a request to restart air quality testing downwind of one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelters and refineries in Canada. This leaves the State of Washington in search of financing to conduct the testing on its own, according to The Spokesman Review.
Teck Resources Ltd., located in Trail, British Columbia, is situated just 20 miles north of Northport, WA, and per the Spokesman’s May 5 article, more than 100 local residents filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to install air monitors between the town and the Canadian border.
The petition was sent last December. Signers of the petition, including residents, the Northport Project and citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC) are asking for three long -term air monitors in and around Northport in order to help address concerns over health related issues experienced by residents.
Jamie Paparich is one of the key organizers behind the Northport Project. In an April article run by the Chewelah Independent, Paparich told the publication, “Residents believe that the air is the culprit behind the many health clusters in our small community. Studies have been conducted showing chronic exposure to elevated ambient arsenic and cadmium causes damage to the immune system and gastrointestinal tract. All of our health issues are auto immune related, and the biggest health cluster of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease is linked directly to the gastrointestinal tract. A study Harvard conducted of our community showed cases of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s to be diagnosed 11.5 to 18 times higher in Northport than anywhere else in the County. Residents continue to be diagnosed. I know of two residents who have been already diagnosed this year.”
Concern of the effects from the Teck smelter on human health has been ongoing for many years. Monitoring by the state in the 1990s showed arsenic and cadmium levels were well beyond acceptable safety standards.
In 2016, the Colville Confederated Tribes won an $8.25 million lawsuit against Teck after the company admitted dumping nearly 10 million tons of slag into the Columbia River between 1930 and 1995.
Recent state models show that the smelter could be sending the highest known airborne levels of arsenic and lead over the border into Washington, Oregon and Idaho, The Spokesman stated.
Monitoring is estimated to cost the State Department of Ecology about $300,000. Brook Beeler, an ecology spokeswoman, said they will look into raising the funds through grants or other agency funding, according to the Spokesman.
The state models were based off six years of data from 2009 to 2014 using the British Columbia government’s projections of heavy metal levels crossing the border.
2009 was the last time air quality was monitored on the Washington side of the border.
Since the mid-1990s, Teck has spent over $1.5 billion on improvements to their smelter, the Spokesman stated, reducing emissions by more than 99 percent, according to Chris Stannell, a spokesman for Teck. Stannell contends the smelter already follows many pollution controls required by the Canadian government, and there are air quality stations situated just 7km (4.35 miles) from the Washington-Canadian border.
Stannell noted to the Independent in April, “air quality is monitored 24 hours a day for metals (including lead) and sulphur dioxide at a variety of locations throughout the Trail area and the operation is in full compliance with all provincial and federal regulations relating to air emissions.”
In the Spokesman article, it was stated that data showed that the average levels of lead and arsenic were many times higher than the next highest reading in the Northwest which was taken in Seattle’s industrial area. The heavy metals in those emissions could pose an increase in serious long-term health risks such as cancer, though short-term effects pose little risk.
Despite all the data, EPA officials do not believe additional monitoring is needed. “From our evaluation of data collected in 1999 to 2009, we believe that the risk to you from the outdoor air in Northport is low,” Cami Grandinetti, a manager in the EPA’s remedial cleanup program, wrote in an April letter and went on to state with additional improvements at the smelter, “we expect current day operations to be even lower,” the Spokesman said.