Archive for the ‘THE NORTHPORT PROJECT’ Category

The Smelter’s Impact

 THE HISTORY

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.

                                    

 WATER

Teck Smelter - release of slag into ColumbiaThe 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.

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NORTHPORT

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”. Aerial July 014_jpg.jpgAs 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.

To read more on health issues of town click here.

                                    

AIR

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.

To read more on air emission results click here. 

                                    

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

 

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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.

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To read more about the ongoing Crohn’s & Colitis study click here.

                                    

MOVING FORWARD    

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

Teck’s “dissapointment” is disgraceful

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.

Ninth Circuit rules in favor of Teck smelter on liability claim

The Original article published at Lake Roosevelt Forum, http://www.lrf.org

A three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that aerial deposition from the Teck smelter in Trail, Canada does not constitute “disposal.” As such, Teck cannot be held liable for hazardous substances such as lead, arsenic and mercury emitted from Trail smoke stacks that traveled through the atmosphere and then deposited in the Upper Columbia Valley. Washington State and the Colville Confederated Tribes brought the case to hold Teck liable for cleanup costs and natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA (also known as superfund).

The court relied heavily on two precedents that parse the meaning of “disposal of waste” under CERCLA. In one of the precedents, the ninth circuit ruled that BNSF Railway emitting diesel particulate matter into the air that resettled onto the land and water did not constitute disposal of waste and thus not subject to liability under CERCLA.

News reports indicate plaintiffs will petition for a new hearing before the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Potentially, the case could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under terms of a 2006 settlement agreement between EPA and Teck, Teck has funded soil sampling and remediation related to atmospheric deposition in the Upper Columbia Valley. In 2014, EPA sampled 74 residential properties which led to cleanup on 14 properties. This year, 142 property owners granted access for soil sampling that begins this month.

Click here for a National Law Review article reviewing the case and its implications.

Documentary makers visit Northport- view clips from filming

What began as a class project for Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson, two professors from Evergreen State College, grew into a multi-media project documenting the experiences of three communities with prolonged relationships with the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO).

Through research, film, photography, oral history, analytical writing, a website, and a documentary, Their Mines, Our Stories document the experiences and struggles of these communities, left to deal with the fallout of ASARCO smelter’s decades of unregulated pollution once they closed their doors and filed for bankruptcy.

Through their shared conditions, these communities are fighting to strengthen policy framework, pollution control laws, regulations and emission standards.
Anne and Lin are reaching out to other communities impacted by industrial pollution, struggling to find answers, assistance, and solutions from the polluters and their state and federal agencies.

This is what brought them to Northport. In May Anne and Lin met with Northport community members at the high school, where we screened their documentary “Under the Smoke Stack.” After the screening Carlos Martinez, a community advocate from Smeltertown in El Paso, TX, called in and we shared our experiences dealing with the polluters, the EPA, and the changes that needed to be made to benefit small communities going forward. We all agreed that if small communities like ours worked together we could create a larger information network.

The following day they filmed interviews with several residents, who shared their stories of how decades of exposure to toxic pollution had impacted their lives. Clips from these interviews can be viewed at: Vimeo – Northport, WA clips. (Click to view)  

The difficulties small communities, impacted by big polluters, face is our size makes us easy to overlook.

However, if we work with other small communities like ours we will become bigger, our voices will become louder, and we will become harder to overlook. With a stronger voice we can work together to make positive changes to impact and strengthen policy, regulations, and environmental health laws.

To read more about Their Mines, Our Stories: Work, Environment and Justice in ASARCO- Impacted Communities visit Anne and Lin’s website at:  http://www.theirminesourstories.org/

The Death List

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

Documentary/Activists – Meeting THIS Saturday in Northport

REMINDER:  The group with Their Mines, Our Stories: Work, Environment and Justice in ASARCO-Impacted Communities will be visiting Northport this weekend.

Through research, film, photography, oral history and analytical writing, they are documenting communities located near smelters, struggling with the impacts of decades of pollution on their environment and health.

Their goal is to explore “how communities, through dedicated and strategic networking around shared conditions, have sought to impact and strengthen the policy frameworks that shape environmental and occupational health.”

Please join us THIS Saturday, May 28th at 2:00 p.m., at the Northport High School, to participate in a meeting to hear about the group’s impressive work.  It is their hope we can all work together to make positive changes in laws and regulation that will allow the industry to continue to operate successfully, but protect the health and environment for future generations.

They will also be filming Northport residents, interested in sharing their stories, on Sunday, May 29th.  More information about this will be addressed at the meeting Saturday.

 

MEETING INFORMATION

DATE:   Saturday, May 28th

TIME:   2:00 p.m.

LOCATION:   Northport High School

 

 

NORTHPORT, WA HISTORIC SOCIETY

Follow the Northport Historical Society Facebook page!  This group is insuring the history of Northport and its people is preserved and accessible to everyone.

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