Teck Smelter fined largest environmental penalty in British Columbia history. Although the majority of their pollution travels 3 miles downriver into the U.S., we cannot fine them because they are a Canadian company, and they cannot be held liable under U.S. Laws.
Archive for the ‘Teck Resources’ Category
For over 100 years the residents of Northport, a small town in northeast Washington near the Canadian border, have been and continue to be poisoned by the heavy metal toxins released by Teck Cominco, a smelter in Trail B.C. Canada.
Teck Cominco, (now known as Teck Resources), is one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelting plants in the world. Since 1906 the smelter’s processing of ore concentrates produce lead, zinc, cadmium, sulfuric acid and a number of other products. The waste, or discharge, from the smelting process contains dangerous heavy metal toxins and is released in two ways; water and air.
The solid discharge is known as slag. The slag is a black, glass like material that resembles sand. It is made up of heavy metal toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, mercury and chromium, just to name a few. From 1906 – 1996 Teck disposed of 450 tons of slag a DAY through specially designed pipes that dumped the toxins directly into the Columbia River. Teck reasoned that, due to the velocity of the Columbia River, the slag would dilute enough before it would cross the Canadian Border and come to populated areas. Unfortunately, Teck was wrong. The practice of disposing the slag into the river was stopped in 1996. It was estimated at that time that Teck had dumped approximately 9.8 million tons of slag into the river, and concern was growing regarding the impact the slag was having on the environment and human health.
Contrary to Teck’s theory, the slag was not being diluted by the time it reached a populated area. Approximately 3 miles down river from the release point the Columbia crosses over into Washington State. It is here the water in the river begins to slow down. Unfortunately, the area where the river first begins to slow, which then creates an environment for the slag to disperse and settle, was through the first populated area it came to, Northport, Washington.
The population of Northport is, and has been, stable at around 310 people in town and approximately 65 living just outside the town limits. It is a rural community that utilizes the river not only for livelihood but for recreation as well. The farmers and ranchers irrigate their crops and water their livestock with the river water; the children grow up learning to swim in the river, especially in the swimming holes. The swimming holes, or pot holes, are pools of river water that overflow into deep recesses of the land. The recessed area fills up with river water and the water becomes warm due to the heat of the summer sun. 40 years ago these warm pools of water became the perfect place for children to splash, swim and spend a good portion of their summer days in. It also became the perfect place for the slag from the river water to settle to the bottom, banks, and adjacent area around the “swimming hole”. As the children would spend endless summer days enjoying the river and the swimming holes they didn’t know they were slowly being poisoned by the toxins a smelter, three miles upstream, had carelessly released over decades.
Today the children of Northport know not to swim in the river. Their parents have warned them and not only have they heard the stories of the toxins in the river, some have witnessed the effects first hand. Watching one or both of their parents suffer from a debilitating auto immune disease and sadly, despite the care their parents took to protect them, some of these children are already suffering from an auto immune disease of their own.
The second route of contamination is from the air. The smelter has two smoke stacks in which the smoke from the smelting process is released. This air is full of particulate matter, which are microscopically small pieces of matter containing heavy metal toxins. Northport is located in the deep valley of the Columbia River. This valley influences air dispersion by limiting wind direction along the river, resulting in the prevailing winds carrying toxic smoke from Trail down the Columbia River valley, where a majority of the air becomes “trapped” in the valley walls, above the many farms and ranches outside of Northport and into the town as well. Which is why this area was nicknamed “The Heavy Fallout Zone” by the EPA.
The amount of sulfur dioxide Teck Cominco was releasing in the air reached such a damaging level in 1933 Northport farmers sued Teck (then Trail Smelter) for the damage they had caused to their livestock and crops, greatly impacting their annual earnings. The air was so polluted crops were visibly burned and the pollutants were killing the animals via the food they ate and the inhalation of the air. The burn line on the trees was still visible well into the 1980’s. Journals a family in Northport kept, written by a family member at the time, summarized that the air was so bad barbwire fences were disintegrating, paint on cars was peeling off, and animals were falling over dead. In 1941, after a drawn out process, the International Joint Commission agreed Teck was liable and ordered them to pay the farmers $34,807.00.
After the lawsuit Teck drastically decreased the amount of sulfur dioxide released in their smoke stacks. However, their air emissions are still full of heavy metal toxins. The toxins, specifically arsenic, cadmium and lead, are at levels that are way above safety levels.
According to four air monitoring studies conducted in Northport by the Washington State Department of Ecology, (between 1993-1998), the levels of arsenic and cadmium were way above the Acceptable Source Impact Level (ASIL), and way higher than the Risk Based Concentration Level. Teck was instructed to install air monitoring in Northport after the final air monitoring report was published by Ecology in 1998. They have yet to install any air monitors.
THE SMELTER, THE EPA & THE CROSS BORDER CONTAMINATION
Teck knowingly poisoned over three generations of innocent residents in Northport and other communities along the Upper Columbia River.
Between 1921 – 2005 Teck released; 36,465 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.
Between 1906 thru 1995 Teck released; 1,314,00 tons of Lead, 4,434,750 tons of Cadmium, 302,250 tons of Mercury, and 525,600,000 tons of Zinc from the slag dumped into the Columbia River.
Not only that but Teck failed to report most of their recorded 89 spills of various toxins into the river and air. One of these accidental spills was 6,330 tons of mercury, released directly into the Columbia River in 1982. It took them five weeks to alert American officials.
Our government agencies, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), knowingly allowed Teck to operate any way they wanted, having no consequences for their gross negligence and disregard of our environment and human lives.
The EPA investigators were encouraged by their superiors not to find any real conclusions when investigating the impacts Teck’s pollution had caused on Northport’s environment and the residents health. They were trying to avoid a sticky situation with cross border pollution. So several studies the EPA, Department of Health (DOH), and the Agency for Toxic Substances conducted in the 1990’s concluded that basically the toxin levels they discovered were above safety standards, but more studies would need to be done. They were dragging their feet, just as they were told to do. The government agencies created to protect our health and environment, the EPA, DOH, and the ATSDR, all turned a blind eye to the problem for decades.
However, the EPA knew under The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund, a remedial investigation and feasibility study would need to be done. Teck refused to cooperate. The EPA issued Teck a Unilateral Administrative Order, demanding they assist with the investigation. Teck ignored the order, and the EPA all but forgot about it. Finally, two members from the Colville Confederate Tribe filed a civil suit against the EPA under CERCLA in 2004. This suit demanded that the EPA enforce their order against Teck. After several court battles Teck lost it’s last appeal and was forced to cooperate with the EPA to complete a study of the Upper Columbia River. The first phases of the studies began in 2006. After 9 years of testing, and usually re-testing, the studies are finally progressing.
HEALTH ISSUES LINKED TO EXPOSURE
Residents in Northport conducted their own health survey in 2009. Health questionnaires were distributed to current and past residents of Northport, spanning three generations. We received more than 500 completed questionnaires. Per the health cluster guidelines of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the ATSDR, the results we collected from the returned questionnaires showed health clusters of brain aneurisms (23), specific cancers (65), parkinson’s disease/multiple scoliosis (13), thyroid diseases (116), and ulcerative colitis and crown’s disease (54). The DOH had already discovered the health cluster of ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease in the area in 1992. All of these diseases can be triggered by chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins released by Teck.
A doctor with Massachusetts General Hospital Crohn’s and Colitis Center conducted a study in the area. The study concluded that the rates of these diseases were 5 to 11 times higher than expected. Based on these results an additional study is being conducted of the residents with ulcerative colitis and crohn’s, focusing on the amount of accumulated toxins found in their systems and referencing the EPA residential soil study results.
The EPA and the State of Washington need to ensure that Teck continues to move forward with all planned remedial investigations and clean-ups promised under the agreement. A large part of this is to reinstate air monitoring in and around Northport.
Teck recently released a statement promising to take every action necessary to clean up what they regret their industrial discharge had done to the environment and upper Columbia River.
However, they are currently trying to duck more responsibility by appealing a recent federal district court judge’s ruling that Teck may also be responsible for the contamination caused by their air emissions, not just from the toxins they discharged into our water and land. Teck claims that under the CERCLA (Superfund) law the word “disposal” is defined as “require(ing) that waste be first placed into or on land or water…”, not air. Therefore, their air emissions don’t count.
I hope their future actions speak louder to the regret they have towards the impacts they have caused to our land, water, wildlife, and to so many innocent people’s lives.
However, based on their most recent actions in court (Click here to read) it doesn’t seem likely.
– Jamie Paparich
2016 BWH/Harvard Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis study to begin in November
In 2011 Dr. Josh Korzenik, The Director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), one of the leading IBD researchers in the country, and his team conducted a study of Northport residents through health questionnaires and medical record confirmations. He discovered a health cluster of Northport residents with either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that was 10 to 15 times higher than national standards. This was one of the largest health clusters of these illnesses he has ever seen.
The causes, and a cure, for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have long baffled the scientific community. Northport’s historical exposure to specific heavy metal toxins may be a contributing factor to the abnormally high number of residents with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Dr. Korzenik is moving forward next month with a new epidemiological case-control study of Northport residents; focusing on a possible correlation to chronic exposure to heavy metals triggering ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
In March I asked for volunteers for this new study. Participants needed are residents diagnosed with either Crohn’s or Colitis, as well as residents who do not have either of these illnesses (a control group). I received many volunteers to participate. Thank you! However, I do not want to miss anyone who may want to participate in this ground breaking study.
If you have not already contacted me* to volunteer and you are willing to participate in this study, both diagnosed residents and non diagnosed residents, please e-mail me as soon as possible. The study begins in the next two weeks.
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
* If you are not sure if you contacted me already please feel free to e-mail again!
The study is simple, and will take only a few minutes of your time. You will be contacted by the research team, either by telephone or e-mail depending on your preference, to give your consent to participate in the study. A questionnaire and a kit including scissors and nail clippers to obtain hair and nail samples will be sent to your home. You will then send the packet back to the researchers, and the assays will be done at their lab.
Thank you so much to the community for your amazing support in volunteering for this much needed study!
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Sept. 9, 2016
By Jamie Paparich
Last month a U.S. District Court Judge ruled Teck, a Canadian smelter, must pay the Confederated Tribes of the Colville (Washington) Reservation $8.25 million in reimbursement of the Tribe’s legal expenses that have mounted in the two decade long legal battle with the smelter. The battle was over the millions upon millions of heavy metal toxins Teck admittedly dumped into the Columbia River for over a century.
Teck responded to this ruling, stating it was “disappointed.” A spokesman for Teck said that the smelter has already spent over $75 million on human health risk assessments and environmental investigations of the Upper Columbia River, as part of the agreement they reached with the EPA.
In 1999 the EPA issued a unilateral order, forcing the smelter to cooperate in the studies and clean-up of the Upper Columbia River. Teck fought this agreement, spending millions of dollars in legal fees, until 2006. They finally began their investigation into the area in 2008, insisting on redoing studies the EPA had already completed. The studies, assessments and clean-ups they have completed have been less than earth shattering. As a matter of fact most of them appear to be more for good PR then for the people and the land. If they have spent $75 million so far the majority of that money was likely spent on attorney fees for the countless appeals they have filed trying to get out of their responsibilities.
The company also stated that they have invested $1.5 billion upgrading the smelter, in an attempt to be in regulation with their environmental permits.
I am having a difficult time sympathizing with the financial burden Teck feels has been placed upon them. If they want to talk numbers how about these numbers;
- Between 1906 thru 1995 Teck dumped 58, 611, 000 tons of heavy metal toxins into our river, our beaches, our land, and our lives.
- Between 1982 thru 2016 over 240 Northport residents have been diagnosed with similar, rare, auto immune diseases linked to chronic heavy metal exposure.
- 23 residents have suffered, or died, from brain aneurisms, the majority of those 23 people lived in a 2-3 mile radius.
- 110 residents passed away from one of four cancers often diagnosed in the community, and also linked to chronic heavy metal exposure.
If Teck is disappointed in the $8.25 million they have to pay to the Colville Tribes maybe they should take a moment and add up our numbers.
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.
“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
Location: Paparich Farm (4598 Mitchell Road)
AIR MONITORING IN NORTHPORT: PART III
**See letter to copy/sign/paste/send to EPA contact requesting air monitoring at end of article***
So, it was established in the air monitoring conducted by Ecology from 1992-1998 that the levels of arsenic and cadmium in Northport’s air was much higher than safety standards, and risk based concentrations. The levels of Arsenic were actually 200 times higher than those found at the worst smelter Superfund site in the world, Tacoma Smelter.
EPA and Ecology have been unable to further monitor Northport’s air because of lack of funding, and honestly we fall pretty low on their priority list. They are currently trying to get Teck to fund air monitoring in the area as part of the Superfund clean-up agreement. However, Teck believes they are not responsible for their air emissions. They are currently appealing this in WA State’s 9th District Court. They claim that CERCLA laws do not specify air as a form of polluting, only that polluters can dispose of toxins by land or water. So much for making amends for their past actions! Obviously Teck is not stepping up to monitor the air in Northport anytime soon.
What the EPA and Teck did not share with the public is that Teck did continued to monitor Northport air, with one monitor, between 1994-2006.
Tucked away in appendix G of Teck’s Upper Columbia River remedial investigation/feasibility study, volume 2, is the results of this air monitoring. Arsenic and Cadmium continue to be way above safety standards and risk based concentrations. The EPA was not even aware this data existed, or that they had access to it, until I asked them about it.
To help EPA obtain the funding for air monitors in Northport a demand must be shown. If each past and present Northport resident, and residents of surrounding communities, copy, paste, and sign the below letter and send it to our EPA project manager, Laura Buelow at firstname.lastname@example.org, our chances increase ten fold.
Please, take five minutes to do this. Those five minutes can help protect generations of Northport residents to come.
LETTER (COPY, PASTE, SIGN, SEND TO: email@example.com):
I am writing to ask EPA to consider an air monitoring study. I believe that the results of the residential soil study clearly show that a formal air monitoring study should be performed in the study area. Aerial deposition of contaminants did occur in the study area and it needs to be determined if this contamination is ongoing.
An air monitoring study should be performed for a minimum of 18 months at four high level lead contamination sites and at one low level lead contamination control site, and one near the river on Mitchell Road, on property in the heavy fall out zone.
Some or all of these sites may need to be monitored over a longer period, depending on the results of the 18-month study.
I also believe that neighbors of property owners who are being offered time critical removal actions be given the opportunity to have their property sampled if it wasn’t sampled in 2014. They should also be offered time critical removal action on their property if results show a need.
TECK SPILL ALERT: Toxins from Teck’s Landfill/Arsenic Storage Area spilled into Columbia River ~ April, 2016 ~
April 13, 2016
SPILL ALERT: Teck Smelter, Trail B.C.
Due to a failure of a sump pump at Teck Smelter in B.C., leachate from an old landfill and arsenic storage area has been released into Stony Creek, which discharges into the Columbia River. The specific toxins and the amounts released is not yet known at this time.
Response and Monitoring – in progress.
Matt Schanz, with the Environmental Public Health Director for Northeast Tri-County Health District, will be in contact with Board Members of the Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC), and the CCC will keep the Northport Community updated on more information as it becomes available.
Thank you to Mindy Smith, from the CCC, in making the Northport Community aware of the most current, and possibly dangerous release by Teck Metals.
Click here for updated news report.