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 SMELTER’ 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
Northport 2016 BWH/Harvard
Crohn’s & Colitis Study Underway
~ Still Recruiting Participants ~
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 have begun their second study of the health cluster of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease diagnosed in Northport residents. Their 2011 study concluded diagnosed cases of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease in the community was 10 to 15 times higher than national standards. This was one of the largest health clusters of these illnesses Dr. Korzenik has ever seen.
The current study is a more in-depth epidemiological case-control study. The focus is in finding a possible correlation of chronic exposure to specific heavy metals and ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The case-control study includes participants who have been diagnosed with either Crohn’s or colitis as well as participants who have not been affected. In March I asked for volunteers for this new study. The response I received was overwhelming. I provided the full list to Dr. Korzenick, however if you volunteered and have still not heard from them please call or e-mail them at: IBDresearch@bwh.harvard.edu or 617-732-9173.
It is not too late to volunteer if you haven’t. They are still recruiting participants.
The scope of this study, and the study itself, has the very likely possibility of providing groundbreaking information the scientific community is greatly lacking.
Thank you to the many past and present Northport residents who have volunteered to participate in this study.
We cannot change the past or the damage Teck’s pollution has caused, and continues to cause, to countless Northport residents. However, by participating in studies like this invaluable information on the routes and duration of exposure to specific environmental toxins have in triggering or causing these rare diseases. This could help accomplish prevention, regulatory changes, and better treatment options and cures for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and possibly many other autoimmune diseases.
– Jamie Paparich
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.
Originally published August 12, 2016 at 6:07 pm
By The Associated Press
SPOKANE — Washington state and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation say they intend to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that said a Canadian company can’t be held liable for toxic air pollution that drifted into the state.
The July 27 decision from a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially dismissed Superfund claims against Teck Resources, which owns a smelter in Trail, British Columbia. For more than a century, pollution from the smelter’s smokestacks funneled down the Columbia River valley and settled over Northport, Washington.
Testing has found high levels of lead and arsenic downwind of the smelter, and a federal judge in Spokane found the company liable.
But the appeals court said that emitting pollutants into the air did not meet the definition of actions for which the company could be held responsible. The state and tribes say they will seek a rehearing in the 9th Circuit, The Spokesman-Review reported.
“We believe that our case is strong and that there is no difference in how the pollution … is impacting the environment, whether it originated from air or water,” said Brook Beeler, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Ecology.
The ruling didn’t address claims related to pollution that was dumped directly into the river. The smelter dumped hundreds of tons of slag daily into the river until 1995, when the B.C. government halted the practice after determining the smelter byproduct was toxic to aquatic life. The slag forms the “black sand beaches” of the Upper Columbia.
In an email, Teck spokesman Chad Pederson said the company reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pay the cleanup costs for 14 residential properties last year, and for ongoing soil testing. Teck’s attorneys are reviewing the recent ruling, he said.
The tribal reservation’s boundaries originally extended to the Canadian border, encompassing the area that’s now Northport, said Michael Marchand, the tribe’s chairman.
“Most people don’t know the land history, or that tribal members retain the legal right to hunt and fish in that former territory,” Marchand said. “Lots of toxic material was released into that area.”
Many of the tribe’s members depend on wild game and fish for a subsistence diet, potentially exposing them to heavy metals and other pollution. For them, hunting and fishing “is not a sport, and it’s not a luxury food,” Marchand said.
In 2004, two members of the Colville Tribes sued Teck in U.S. District Court under the Superfund law. The state of Washington later joined the lawsuit.
The Associated Press
by: Jamie Paparich
In 1992 reporter Julie Titone wrote an article in the Spokesman-Review, “Canadian companies suspected in illnesses.” The article focused on a group of mothers in Northport, Washington and the health effects their small community suffered from because of, in their opinion, chronic exposure to the heavy metal toxins released by a Canadian smelter 3 miles up river, Teck Cominco.
The article begins with neighbors Naomi Palm, Faye Jackman, and Kay Paparich sitting in Naomi’s kitchen. In front of Naomi was her hand written notes of a health survey the women conducted in the community. The notes listed the similar illnesses her and all her neighbors, family, and friends suffered from. Naomi called it her “death list”. The list contained 45 previous residents who passed away from four types of cancer, and 163 residents all suffering from similar diseases. In a town of 375 people the list was alarming, to say the least.
At the time of the article the small community was paralyzed with fear. Children continued to be diagnosed with two rare intestinal diseases, friends and neighbors were passing away from brain aneurisms or tumors, cancer, or suffering from the debilitating effects of multiple scoliosis and parkinson’s disease.
The town first became aware of the startling amount of illnesses being diagnosed in the community in the late 1970’s. After repeated requests, the Washington State Department of Health finally did a health investigation in 1988. However, the health investigator who conducted the investigation left the department and the findings were never made public.
So in 1991 these determined women began conducting their own health survey of the community. After months of knocking on doors they compiled the information their neighbors had provided. They discovered that of the 7 families living along Mitchell Road, all living within a 2 mile radius of each other, fifteen children had been diagnosed with 2 rare auto immune diseases, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. At the time of the survey approximately 1 in 100,000 people were diagnosed with either Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s in the United States.
The woman also discovered that of the six families living along Waneta Road, across the Columbia River from Mitchell Road, 12 people had died, or suffered from, brain aneurisms or brain tumors. Statistically 8-10 people out of 100,000 people suffer from a brain aneurism in the United States.
Naomi mapped out the illnesses collected from their survey in an attempt to understand if their route of exposure to the smelter’s toxins might be the common denominator effecting their families with these rare illnesses. Their exposures differed in many ways. Not everyone swam in the river, not everyone grew their own gardens, or ate the fish…..but the one common denominator quickly became clear. It was the air. The families all lived in a valley, next to the Columbia River. The pollution flowing north from the smelter often got trapped in the valley walls.
Two months after the 1992 article was published the Washington State Department of Ecology began the first of four phases of air monitoring in the area. The results of all four phases of the monitoring showed that levels of arsenic were 200 times higher than national safety standards, and levels of cadmium were 18 times higher. Ecology issued the smelter a warning that continuous air monitoring of the area was necessary. The residents of Northport were never made aware of these results. Teck did continue to monitor the air until 2006, according to EPA documents. The levels of arsenic and cadmium continued to exceed safety standards at the same rate.
The 1992 article ended with Kay Paparich voicing her concern for future generations of Northport residents, “It’s too late for my children because they’ve already got these problems, but what about the little ones coming up?”
“The little ones coming up”, that Kay was so concerned about in 1992, are now in their 20’s and 30’s, suffering from the same illnesses that these women discussed in Naomi’s kitchen 24 years ago.
In 2009 residents conducted another community health survey of past and present Northport residents. The results mirrored those of the 1991 community health survey, and confirmed Kay’s concerns were valid. Not only were residents still being diagnosed with the same health issues, at the same rate, reported cases of multiple scoliosis, Parkinson’s and cases of the four types of cancers of concern had increased.
What these women discovered by coming together and using plain common sense, took government agencies decades, and millions of dollars, to finally realize. The agencies were able to negotiate with the smelter to remove contaminated soil from beaches along the Columbia River, residential property, and upland soil. However, the air still continues to be ignored. If the smelter is monitoring it, they are no longer sharing the results with our government agencies, and our government agencies are not monitoring it.
The 1929 & 1936 USDA studies, the 1992 – 1998 Ecology air monitoring studies, the 1994 – 2006 Teck air monitoring, EPA’s decade long remedial investigations, along with Ecology’s soil and wetland studies, The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), and Teck’s own remedial investigations, have all confirmed specific heavy metal contamination of the Upper Columbia River area, specifically in and around Northport. It has forensically and scientifically confirmed that the source of contamination is Teck Resources. More specifically, the primary source of contamination is from Teck’s aerial dispersion of heavy metal toxins, through their smoke stacks.
EPA project manager Laura Buelow stated, “(T)he data shows that the soil became contaminated from historical smelting operations at the Trail smelter, specifically the metals coming out of the smelter stacks (air).”
To simplify the point; between 1921-2005 Teck smelter released; 38,465 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.
Currently the air in Northport is not being monitored. Ecology does not have the funds to install monitoring, the EPA has not been able to negotiate it as part of Teck’s remedial investigation and human health risk assessment.
Teck’s air emissions have poisoned over three generations of Northport residents. Nothing is being done to protect the next three generations, or the generations after that.
To request air monitors be installed in and around Northport contact EPA project manager Laura Buelow at: Buelow.Laura@epa.gov
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)