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.
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New Twist in Pollution Case
Canadian Smelter’s Legal Maneuver Frustrates Residents Along Northwest Border
September 11, 2012, 9:42 p.m. ET
By JOEL MILLMAN
NORTHPORT, Wash.—Ranching families and American Indian tribes along the Columbia River here have long accused a refinery across the river in Canada of poisoning their land.
In a surprise move, the plant’s owner, Canadian refining giant Teck Resources Ltd., said late Monday that its Teck Metals unit would no longer contest that it is responsible for discharging contaminants into the U.S. in a federal trial that had been set to begin next week. Instead, Teck agreed to proceed to phase two of the trial in October, which will culminate in a judge’s eventual ruling on any liability for pollution damages and cleanup costs. Teck continues to say it isn’t responsible for extensive pollution of the river.
Turmoil in Northport
Matt Mills McKnight for The Wall Street JournalRanching families, especially Kay Papariches and her family and their neighbors along Mitchell Road, which hugs a bend in the Columbia River, report diagnoses of cancers and multiple sclerosis that they believe came from swimming in the Columbia, and from using river water for fields and cattle.
The company’s legal maneuver represents a mixed blessing for residents of this tiny border community on the U.S. side.
Washington state and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation had filed suit in federal court against Teck, whose sprawling Trail, British Columbia, smelter began operating on the Columbia River in 1896. The trial was set to begin Sept. 17 as the initial step in establishing any clean-up costs, and residents had hoped the trial would soon clarify the extent of any damages.
While the company may eventually pay damages, any dollar amount won’t be set until at least 2015, meaning it will be three years or more before residents here know the extent of any damages.
Some people here had been looking forward to seeing Teck’s alleged discharging of waste from its Canada plant examined in court, and hoped evidence in the trial would bolster their own efforts to hold the company accountable for illnesses they say have plagued families here for decades.
“I hope it can at least get it stopped for future generations,” said Barbara Anderson, an artist who has lived here since 1975. Mrs. Anderson, 59 years old, believes her teenage daughter’s ulcerative colitis was caused directly by smelter heavy metals. They are not currently suing the company.
In the past century, some residents complained about damage to crops from Teck’s operations, which occasionally led to small settlements. In 1941, the Trail smelter was cited in an International Joint Commission arbitration ruling that no country can permit air pollution that harms the citizens or property in another country, said Rachael Paschal Osborn, staff attorney for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy in Spokane, Wash.
In this town of barely 350 residents, locals have long complained of higher-than-normal rates of certain maladies. Ranching families, especially on Mitchell Road, which runs along a bend in the Columbia River, report diagnoses of cancers and multiple sclerosis that they believe came from swimming in the Columbia, and from using river water for fields and cattle.
A recent Harvard Medical School study determined that Northport has 10 to 15 times the normal rates of certain inflammatory bowel maladies such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. “It seems like a provocative cluster,” said Joshua Korzenik, an author of the study, who now is seeking funding for a full epidemiological survey of the town’sresidents to attempt to confirm if there is a link to any pollution.
Washington state health officials say the connection isn’t conclusive.
Teck officials say the disease clusters could be related to family genetics and factors other than pollution from its plant.
Teck’s most recent court case began in 2004, when the Confederated Tribes of Colville brought suit in U.S. court in Yakima, Wash. Their goal: to force Teck to comply with Superfund rules.
At first, the Canadian company argued that the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as the Superfund law, lacked jurisdiction over a foreign company.
But with the trial set to begin next week, the Canadian company switched gears. In its statement Monday, Teck said it would now stipulate that “some portion” of the slag discharged from Trail into the Columbia River between 1896 and 1995, along with “some portion of the effluent” discharged, “are present in the Upper Columbia River,” and that “some hazardous substances” had been released into the U.S.
The 1.4 million-acre Colville reservation hugs one bank of the Columbia River north of the Grand Coulee Dam. For years, tribal members complained pollutants from Teck’s Canadian operation remained in sediment under Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir of Columbia River water that lies behind the dam.
John Sirois, chairman of the Confederated Colville tribes, points to a spot of black sand beach known to locals as “Dead Man’s eddy” where the tribe warns against fishing or swimming. Mr. Sirois said his reservation had spent over $2 million in legal fees, just to get to Teck to court. “Certainly, this is a win,” he said. “But we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of damages and what cleanup costs could be.”
Monday’s news angered some residents. “Teck was afraid of the outcome of the Yakima trial. They feared if they were held liable it would have opened them up to an onslaught of civil lawsuits,” said Jamie Paparich, who grew up on Mitchell Road and now leads a coalition of former and current Northport citizens fighting for a cleanup of the river.
Write to Joel Millman at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared September 12, 2012, on page A6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: New Twist in Pollution Case.
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High disease rate found in town near B.C. Teck smelter
Posted: Aug 14, 2012 4:36 PM PT
Teck responds to smelter illness accusations
A U.S. study has found an unusually high incidence of gastrointestinal disease in a small U.S. town located downstream from a Teck smelter in Trail, B.C.
Northport, Wash., is a small community of 300 people, located 35 kilometres downstream from Teck’s Trail operations — one of the biggest lead and zinc smelters in the world.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have now confirmed Northport residents have 10 to 15 times the normal rate of diseases such as colitis and Crohn’s disease, which have symptoms including abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Teck’s Trail smelter is one of the biggest lead and zinc smelters in the world. (Trail Daily Times/Canadian Press)“It’s a relief to have someone in a knowledgeable situation say something is going on here that is not normal,” says Northport resident Joe Wickman.
The Harvard study has ruled out a genetic connection, as few of the Northport victims are related.
Researchers are now seeking funding to establish whether environmental toxins are behind the high rate of Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Teck says it has spent millions of dollars reducing pollution from its Trail smelter, and there is no established link between environmental factors and disease rates for Crohn’s and colitis.
“We need to find out what is really going and we need to have clear answers here,” says company spokesperson Dave Godlewski.
For generations, locals have complained they’ve been sickened by pollution from the smelter across the border.
Jamie Paparich, whose father and aunt had Crohn’s disease, has lobbied the medical community to get involved for years.
“When I stumbled upon all the records and research about Teck, and learned all the years and decades of pollution they had put into the river and air, it just became so obvious that this was the common denominator this was the link,” says Paparich.
He now wants action from Teck.
“They can stop maybe shuffling their feet on some of this and go forward on areas they know they can make a difference now,” Paparich said.
With files from CBC’s Bob Keating
Researcher seeking clues behind clusters of disease in tiny town
High number of Northport residents have colitis or Crohn’s disease
Rose Kalamarides and her mother, Kay Paparich, talk last month about the high rate of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in Northport, Wash. Local residents suspect a link to pollution from a smelter in nearby Trail, B.C.
At the kitchen table of her mother’s home in Northport, Kalamarides noted a common thread in each diagnosis: People who got sick were from families who were downwind and downstream from a smelter in Trail, B.C., that funneled pollution through the narrow canyon of the Columbia River.
“When we were kids walking to school, we could smell it in the air,” said Kalamarides, now 56, who grew up about 15 miles from the smelter’s stacks.
The disease cluster in this tiny border town of 296 people has caught the attention of a Harvard Medical School researcher, who thinks it could provide clues for solving a medical mystery.
About 1.4 million people nationwide have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, a similar inflammatory bowel condition. The illnesses affect about one in every 200 people. Both diseases are believed to have environmental triggers, but despite extensive research the causes have never been identified.
Last year, 119 current and former Northport residents took part in a health survey designed by Dr. Josh Korzenik. Seventeen had confirmed cases of either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
“That’s about 10 to 15 times what we’d expect to see in a population the size of Northport,” said Korzenik, director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals. “I’m not aware of any other cluster like it.”
Researchers have long suspected that environmental toxins play a role in Crohn’s disease and colitis, which have symptoms including abdominal pain and diarrhea. Both illnesses emerged after the Industrial Revolution, when exposure to pollution from coal-fired factories and vehicle emissions became a part of many people’s daily lives.
Northport might help provide some answers.
Korzenik has ruled out a genetic influence in the town’s cluster: Few of the individuals were related. Seven of the 17 cases were people who lived along Mitchell Road, where sulfur dioxide emissions from the smelter killed farmers’ crops in the 1920s and 1930s, leading to an international lawsuit.
For a century, the smelter now owned by the Canadian mining company Teck Resources also dumped millions of tons of waste laden with heavy metals into the Columbia River.
Korzenik plans to expand the health survey to gather information from other communities near Northport. He’s also interested in pursuing funding to explore possible pollution exposures, including looking into whether the smelter’s emissions may have played a role in disease rates. An earlier study he worked on in England showed a mild correlation between rates of inflammatory bowel disease in young adults and certain types of air pollution.
“It’s important for the people of Northport to understand why this is happening – if there’s a particular exposure that’s leading to this extent of the disease in their community. It’s also important for the larger community,” Korzenik said. “Does this hold an important clue? … Then it may hold answers for many other people out there.”
Local residents say Korzenik’s initial findings confirm what they’ve long suspected: that rates of inflammatory bowel disease are uncommonly high in their small town.
“It’s a validation, but it’s a sad validation,” said Clifford Ward, a Northport resident who lives several miles from the smelter.
Two of his three children have had digestive tract problems, though neither has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or colitis. One is still a teenager. “There are 30 to 40 times per year when I can still see and smell smoke from the smelter,” Ward said.
David Godlewski, vice president for Teck American, the U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian company that owns the smelter, declined to comment for this story. In past interviews, however, Teck Resources officials said that ongoing plant upgrades have reduced the Trail smelter’s air and water emissions by 95 percent.
People in Northport are eager for answers.
“It’s not a very nice disease,” said Bob Jackman, a Northport resident whose wife was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in her 40s. She often swam in the Columbia at a beach across the river from the Mitchell Road property where Kalamarides grew up.
Her parents moved there in the 1950s, thinking the 150 acres would provide a wholesome setting to raise their six children, said Kalamarides, who now lives in Alaska. Her father was a truck driver. Her mother tended a large garden and the family raised chickens, hogs and cattle for meat.
“My mother’s grocery bill in the summer was less than $5,” said Theresa Finnigan, Kalamarides’ twin sister.
“We irrigated out of that river,” Kalamarides said. “You can’t see the pollution coming up with your lettuce.”
In the 1980s, the state of Washington placed air monitors on the family’s farm. They detected elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium.
A few years earlier, Kalamarides had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. At age 28, she had her colon removed.
The surgery followed severe bouts of the disease. Internal bleeding made her anemic. Even with regular blood transfusions, she was frequently fatigued. Maintaining her weight was a struggle; it slipped to 90 pounds. As slight as she was, her face was puffy from powerful prescription steroids she took to help keep the ulcerative colitis in check.
“You’re in pain every day,” she said. “Your life starts to revolve around the disease.”
As a young woman, Kalamarides found ulcerative colitis embarrassing to discuss. Removal of her colon cured her symptoms but required her to wear a bag – and later a catheter – to eliminate waste.
Now that she’s in her 50s, Kalamarides finds it easier to talk about the disease’s impact on her life.
She finds it disturbing, however, that diagnoses of Crohn’s disease and colitis are still occurring in Northport.
“We need to understand what’s happening,” she said, “or this could go on forever.”