Teck Smelter – Timeline of Pollution



Teck is one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelters, located in Trail, B.C. Canada. This timeline of Teck Smelter’s pollution and accidental spills was created using data from their records and documentation of events, as well as data from The Canadian B.C. Environment Ministry and the Environmental Protection Agency.


  • 1906 –   Production begins at the Trail Smelter (now Teck) in Trail, B.C. Canada.
  • 1916 –    Trail’s releasing  a monthly output of 4,700 tons of sulphur dioxide through air emissions.
  • 1920 –    Due to World War I the smelter’s output drastically accelerated, increasing output of sulphur dioxide to 10,000 tons a month.
  • 1921-2005 –  Trail’s estimate of total annual air emissions (containing zinc, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury) was 600,000 tons.
  • 1931 –    Trail’s fuming furnace processed 150,000 tons of blast furnace slag.  (Slag is the by-product 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.
  • 1933 –  Farmers from Northport sue the Trail Smelter for damages the smelter’s air pollution (sulfur dioxide) caused to their stock and crops.
  • 1940 –  Teck Cominco (formerly Trail Smelter) is admittedly dumping up to 1000 tons of heavy metal toxins (slag) into the river daily, including 3.6 tons of mercury a year.

**  The explanation given to us regarding the gap of missing information from 1940 to 1980 was an inability to locate the 40 years of documentation, possibly due to a warehouse fire.

  • 1980 to 1996 –  Records show the average amount of slag Teck dumps from mid 1980’s through 1996 is 450 tons a day
  • 1980 –   Accidental releases:  15 tons of sulfuric acid released from smoke stack, 7 tonnes of mercury released into the Columbia River (River), 500 gallons of amonia hydrosulfide, 30 tonnes of sulfuric acid, 24 tonnes of sulfuric acid released into the River.
  • 1981 –  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.  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. 
  • 1982 –  One of the first recorded spills by Teck Cominco is of 6,330 pounds of mercury that leaked directly into the Columbia. Teck does not report the massive spill to Canadian Authorities for 5 weeks. Once the Canadian Ministry notifies the United States authorities no action is taken, neither to warn residents in communities or tribes along the river, or an environmental investigation. The Canadian Ministry files a lawsuit against Teck. The smelter eventually pleads guilty and pays a $5000 fine to Canada’s B.C. Environment Ministry.
  • 1987  Accidental releases in the River: 15 tonnes of sulfuric acid.

  • 1988  Accidental releases in the River: 5 tonnes of zinc.

  • 1989 – Accidental releases in the River:  amount “unknown” of Arsenic (July 17th), amount “unknown” of gypsum & phosphuric acid, (July 16th), neutral thickener – 60,000 liters, “yellow substance” – 305 meters long. (Teck is fined twice, by The Canadian B.C. Environment Ministry, for exceeding waste management permit limits, under Canada’s Waste Management Act.)

  • 1990 – Accidental releases in the River: 31 gallons of mercury “unknown” amount of zinc (Sept. 4th), 300-400 gallons of sulfuric acid.  (Teck reports a spill of 300-400 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid. The accident 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.)

  • 1991 – Accidental releases in the River: .32 mg/l of cadmium (permit limit annually 0.05 mg/l), .056 mg/l mercury (permit limit annually .01mg/l), 2.89 mg/l of lead (permit limit 1 mg/l), 29.8 mg/l of zinc, 4.55 tonnes of sulfuric acid, 27 tonnes of phosphoric acid, 6.7 tonnes of phosphates, 50 tonnes of partially “treated” slag.  (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.)
  • 1992 –  Accidental releases in the River:  132 kg of mercury, 214.1 kg of zinc, 466 gallos of sulfuric acid, 15 tonnes of phosphoric acid.  (Teck records indicate, on average, dumping 200 tons 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.)
    •  Teck reports a spill of 855 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 187 pounds of mercury
  • 1993 –  Accidental releases in the River:  “unknown amount” and 87 kgs of arsenic, “unkonwn amount of cadmium, 25 kgs of mercury, 600 kgs of zinc, 13,000 tonnes of sulfuric acid. (Teck 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.”
  • 1994 –  The Canadian river study, conducted under the “Columbia River Integrated Environmental Monitoring Program”, is published. It states that a significant amount of heavy metal toxins were found in river sediments south of Trail (Waneta & Northport, Washington).
  • 1995 –  An 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)”
  • 1996 –  Teck’s records show an average daily 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. Teck begins storing the slag, later selling it to the concrete industry.
  • 1997 –  The Colville Confederate 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.
    • The reports concludes that between 1994-1997 Teck’s discharges of arsenic, cadmium and lead equal more than the discharges of ALL the zinc and lead smelters combined through-out the United States.
  • 1998 –  Teck reports an accidental spill of 3.4 tons of slag into the river
  • 2001 –  Teck reports a spill of 1,923 pounds of mercury.

**  Teck’s records show 86 accidental spills between 1987-2001, the spills listed above are the only ones that documentation could be found on.

  • 2004–  Records, released by the Canadian B.C. Ministry, estimate that Teck has been dumping approximately 1.6 tons – 3.6 tons of mercury annually into the river since 1940.
  • 2008 –  Teck records a spill of 2,068 pounds of lead and 420 quarts of acid
  • 2010 –  Teck spills approx. 15kg of mercury into the river when there is a leak while employees are working on pipes at the facility.
  • 2014 –  Teck reports a spill of 12,000 and 25,000 litres of a sodium hydroxide solution

Between 1921 – 2005  Teck 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.

Between 1906 – 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.

“The estimated 9.8 million tons (of slag) that Cominco has dumped into the river is equivalent to a dump truck emptying 19 tons every hour for 60 years.”  

– Karen Dorn Steel,  The Spokesman Review (2003)

The accidental spills the smelter has had over the years were eventually reported to the US Agencies by the Canadian B.C. Environment Ministry.  However in every reported case neither the Canadian Ministry, nor the United States Health Department (DOH), or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed any of the communities, located just a few miles down river.

Under their own guidelines this is a criminal act of negligence.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by William Neves on January 17, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    “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.



  2. 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.



  3. Posted by Lindsay on October 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    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.



  4. Posted by Lindsay on October 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    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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