Teck Smelter – Timeline of Pollution


Teck is one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelters, located in Trail, B.C. Canada. The timeline below is of Teck Smelter’s century of toxic pollution, emissions and accidental spills; created from their own records and documentation of events, as well as data from The Canadian B.C. Environment Ministry and the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency. 


Production begins at the Trail Smelter (now Teck) in Trail, B.C. Canada.


Trail’s releasing  a monthly output of 4,700 tonnes of sulphur dioxide through air emissions.


Due to World War I the smelter’s output drastically accelerated, increasing output of sulphur dioxide to 10,000 tonnes a month.

1921 – 2005:

Trail’s estimate of total annual air emissions (containing zinc, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury) was 600,000 tonnes.


Trail’s fuming furnace processed 150,000 tonnes of blast furnace slag.  (Slag is the byproduct of the smelting process and is a sand like material that contains heavy metal toxins.)

Trail’s operations expanded to include the manufacturing of ammonium sulfate and ammonium phosphate fertilizer.


Farmers from Northport sue the Trail Smelter for damages the smelter’s air pollution (sulfur dioxide) caused to their stock and crops.


Teck Cominco (formerly Trail Smelter) is admittedly dumping up to 1000 tonnes of heavy metal toxins (slag) into the river daily, and approximately 1.6 tonnes – 3.6 tonnes of mercury annually into the river.

1940 – 1980:      

Explanation given to us regarding the gap of missing information/ documentation between 1940-1980 was an inability to locate the 40 years of documentation, possibly due to a warehouse fire.

1980 – 1996:      

Records show the average amount of slag Teck dumps from mid 1980’s through 1996 is 450 tonnes a day


Accidental releases in the River:  9.5 tonnes of zinc, 9.5 tonnes of sulfuric acid, 4000 gallons ammonia hydrosulfide, 93 tonnes of sulfuric acid.  

A memo, from Canada’s B.C. Environment Ministry, estimates Teck has been dumping up to 20 pounds of mercury a day into the river for an unknown amount of years.

In October 1981 a letter from Environment Canada to the B.C. Ministry of Environment stated that after the 1980 6,330 mercury spill the mercury levels in Lake Roosevelt exceeded drinking water standards.


In November 1083 USGS water sampling at NASQAN site 12400520, (Columbia River area in Northport), discovered mercury levels at 7.0 ug/l.


Accidental releases in the River: 15 tonnes of sulfuric acid.


Accidental releases in the River: 5 tonnes of zinc.

In a July 1988 internal memo from senior toxicologist John Ward, B.C. the decision of officials on whether or not to warn the public about elevated mercury levels in fish downstream of the smelter (Northport) was discussed. The officials decided against a warning, saying people were probably safe if they only ate one meal of fish a week.


Accidental releases in the River:  Amount “unknown” of Arsenic (July 17th), amount “unknown” of gypsum & phosphoric acid, (July 16th), neutral thickener – 60,000 liters, “yellow substance” – 305 meters long.

Early 1990s

In the early 1990s a Washington resident contacted the EPA’s regional office to express community wide concern about the mercury in the Columbia River, as several Northport residents had reported seeing actual pools of the silver substance floating in the river, and specifically in Sheep Creek. EPA emergency response coordinator Thor Cutler worked up a plan to investigate mercury in the reported areas. His plan was denied by EPA upper management.  “It was a management call. At the time, it appeared that money was better spent on more immediate emergencies,” Cutler said.


Accidental releases in the River: 31 gallons of mercury “unknown” amount of zinc (Sept. 4th), 300-400 gallons of sulfuric acid.  (Teck’s spill of 300-400 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid is not reported until 14 hours after time of spill because, according to the B.C. Environment Incident Report, the plant’s alarm did not sound.)


Accidental releases in the River: .16 mg/l of cadmium, .08 mg/l mercury, 289 mg/l of lead, 29.8 mg/l of zinc, 4.55 tonnes of sulfuric acid, 9.4 tonnes of phosphoric acid, 6.7 tonnes of phosphates, 50 tonnes of partially “treated” slag, and 50 tonnes of furnace oil.

Teck violates their waste management permit with a spill of zinc and cadmium. They plead guilty and agree to pay $40,000 towards a Canadian river study. Teck’s toxins impact only approximately 3 miles of the Columbia River before crossing into the United States.  However, the $40,000 study stopped at the Canadian border.


Accidental releases in the River:  132,000,000 mg/l of mercury, 214,000,000 mg/l of zinc, 476 gallons of sulfuric acid, 1.5 tonnes of phosphoric acid, 75 gallons of ammonium bisulphite.

Teck records indicate, on average, dumping 200 tonnes of sulfuric acid a day into the river. Their Canadian discharge permits allow this, the United States has access to these documents and the right to issue a stop, the United States never requests to see any documents.


Accidental releases in the River:  “unknown” amount of arsenic, “unknown” amount of cadmium, 25,000,000 mg/l of mercury, 600,000,000 mg/l of zinc, 13,000 tonnes of sulfuric acid.

Teck also reports an accidental spill of a large amount of sediment containing arsenic and cadmium.

A memo from Canadian regulators to Teck says a better river monitoring system needs to be installed.

Richard Dalosse, the Regional Environment Manager, also sends an internal memo to his supervisors. In it he says; “If we fail to ensure accurate monitoring of this discharge, it is possible that we could be held civilly or criminally liable.”


Accidental releases in the River: .22 tonnes and “unknown” amount of arsenic, .21 tonnes of cadmium, 2,000,000 mg/l of mercury (16 exceedances for the year), 1.50 mg/l of lead, “unknown” amount of zinc, 3.5 billion mg/l of ammonia.

A Canadian river study, conducted between 1991-1993 by the Columbia River Integrated Environmental Monitoring Program, is published. It states that water quality criteria for heavy metals near the Canadian smelter exceeded all safety standards, worse yet the water quality criteria for heavy metals downriver (Northport) were found to be as much as 40 times higher than those found at the Canadian location.  


Accidental releases in the River:  12,500,000 mg/l of arsenic, 186,000,000 mg/l of cadmium, 8,190,000 mg/l of mercury, 63,800,000 mg/l of lead, 2.5 tonnes of zinc, 1000 gallons of sulfuric acid.  (The accidental spill of 1000 gallons of sulfuric acid is reported by the smelter. Per their records the accident was attributed to “lack of attention” on part of a worker.)

An internal BC Ministry memo states that the ongoing mercury spills by the smelter “…..are of serious concern due to the persistence & bio accumulative nature (of mercury)”


Accidental releases in the River:  640,000,000 mg/l of arsenic, 4,760,000 mg/l of cadmium, 30,000 mg/l of mercury, 30,000 mg/l of lead, 2.3 tonnes of zinc, 75 tonnes of slag.

Teck records show an average daily ALLOWED discharge of: 40 pounds of lead, 135 pounds of cadmium, 9 pounds of mercury and more than 16,000 pounds of zinc.

Teck halts the practice of dumping slag into the river, (not including the 75 tonnes spilled accidentally that year). Teck begins storing the slag, later selling it to the concrete industry.


Accidental releases in the River: 3 tonnes of cadmium, 3 tonnes of mercury, 1.4 tonnes of lead, 500,000,000 mg/l of zinc.

The Colville Confederated Tribe completes a study regarding the impact of Teck’s century of discharging heavy metal toxins may have had on their environment and human health.

“Between 1994 – 1997 Teck’s discharges of arsenic, cadmium and lead equal more than the discharges of ALL the lead and zinc smelters COMBINED throughout the United States.”
Karen Dorn Steele, The Spokesman Review (2004)


Accidental releases in the River:  73,360,000 mg/l of arsenic, 26,000,000 mg/l of cadmium, 177,000,000 mg/l of zinc, 3.4 tonnes of slag.  (Although Teck claims no slag has been released into the river since 1996.)


Accidental releases in the River:  29.04 mg/l of cadmium, 271,000,000 mg/l of zinc, “unknown” amount of contaminated water.


Accidental releases in the River:  14,200,000 mg/l of cadmium, 350,000,000 mg/l of zinc.


Accidental releases in the River:  1,923 pounds of mercury, 529,700,000 mg/l of zinc.

1987 – 2001:     

Teck reported 86 accidental spills between 1987 – 2001.  The 15 spills listed above are the only ones that documentation could be found on.  There is no record of the toxins, or the amount of toxins, released in the other 71 spills reported.


Records, released by the Canadian B.C. Ministry, estimate that Teck has been dumping approximately 1.6 tonnes – 3.6 tonnes of mercury annually into the river since 1940.


Teck records a spill of 2,068 pounds of lead and 420 quarts of acid


Teck spills approx. 15,000,000 mg/l of mercury into the river when there is a leak while employees are working on pipes at the facility.


Teck reports a spill of 12,000 and 25,000 liters of a sodium hydroxide solution


AIR EMISSIONS released between 1921 – 2005: 

  • 38,465 tonnes of Zinc
  • 22,688 tonnes of Lead
  • 1,225 tonnes of Arsenic
  • 1,103 tonnes of Cadmium
  • 97 tonnes of Mercury

LAND/WATER TOXINS (slag) released between 1906 – 1995:

  • 1,314,00 tonnes of Lead
  • 4,434,750 tonnes of Cadmium
  • 302,250 tonnes of Mercury
  • 525,600,000 tonnes of Zinc
“The estimated 9.8 million tons (of slag) that (Teck) Cominco has dumped into the river is equivalent to a dump truck emptying 19 tons every hour for 60 years.”  
– Karen Dorn Steele,  The Spokesman Review (2003)


6 thoughts on “Teck Smelter – Timeline of Pollution

Add yours

  1. I lived in Kotzebue AK where the red dog mine contaminated the water supply. Aim the first months the lining of my throat shed. I had unexplained pneumonitis. Then I developed a chronic GI bleed. The eskimos of the nana corporation will be extinct before they can ever clean up the mess. Cadmium’s half-life is 38 years approximately making the concomitant lead and probable mercury toxicity seem mild. They killed a tribe. The physical pain of chronic Cadmium poisoning is unbearable. BUT CAUSING THE DEATH OF AN ENTIRE TRIBE IS A NEW LOW. They settled on cleaning it up after I left there. Cleaning it up yard later might be a start. A colleague of mine had several retarded children and she just kept trying to have a healthy one. How can we stop this from ever happening again. I will die far too young and have had only miscarriages since I left there.


  2. “Teck” reportedly spilled ten thousand + gallons of sodium hydroxide into the Columbia in 2007.
    My family lived on the banks of the Columbia and swam regularly off a dock located on the river. I find no coincidence at the same time we all experienced throat,eye, and skin irritation. The children had the worst symptoms. A physician said the children had “pink eye”(I questioned this diagnosis at the time. I listened to Canadian radio due to my close proximity to the border ,otherwise I wouldn’t have known of the spill.


  3. Children should not be allowed to live in Trail. The last Lead Task force found that the AVERAGE lead levels in children 3 years old and below was 5 mc/dl which is the level at which the US CDC says action is required. All children should be removed from this sickly, polluted town.


  4. Hi again, I’m re-posting because I didn’t turn check the email notification tab. Again, I am completing a community assessment on Trail and I would really like to use some of these facts but because I am writing an academic paper I will need to support them with references. Thank you for any help.


  5. Hello, I am completing a community assessment on Trail and I would really like to use some of these facts but because I am writing an academic paper I will need to support them with references. Thank you for any help.


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