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Sat., June 15, 2019
By: Kip Hill
The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear the latest appeal from a Canadian mining firm that has been blamed for contamination of the Upper Columbia River north of Kettle Falls.
Teck Metals, which owns a smelter in Trail, British Columbia, sought review of a 2018 order from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordering them to pay more than $8 million in “response costs” to the Colville Confederated Tribes. The tribe had previously worked with the EPA and other environmental agencies to determine that millions of tons of contaminated heavy metal material had been released by the company into the river between 1930 and 1995, threatening fishing and recreation in Lake Roosevelt and the northern reaches of the river.
Some of the contamination from the smelter, as well as other industrial sites along the river, turned the sand along a beach north of Northport black from settled slag. Teck paid to remove 9,100 tons of sand from that beach in 2010.
The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in orders issued Monday in Washington, D.C. The Washington Ecology Department lauded the decision in a statement Friday, calling it a “big win” for tribes and the state.
A lawsuit was initially filed in 2004 seeking restitution and coverage of cleanup costs by Teck. The suit was filed in federal court in Eastern Washington, and one of the named plaintiffs was Joe Pakootas, a Colville Confederated tribe member later turned Democratic politician.
“We’ve filed many a suit, and they’ve all been appealed,” Pakootas said Friday.
While the courts have ruled Teck is responsible for the water contamination, in 2016 judges excused the firm from covering cleanup costs for air pollution from the smelter’s smokestacks wafting across the border.
Teck argued that it was outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and later that it should not be subject to private lawsuits because of diplomatic agreements between Canada and the United States. In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, the Canadian government argued allowing the order to stand would allow judgments of a court to supersede cleanup efforts negotiated between the two countries.
“Through a combination of bilateral agreements, diplomatic consultations and treaty-based dispute resolution processes, Canada and the United States have worked in tandem to prevent and repair cross-border contamination for more than a century,” the country wrote in its brief.
The tribes have spent millions in regulatory costs trying to determine the extent of the contamination caused by pollution, Pakootas said. The judgment will cover those costs, but the complicated question of what needs to be done to reduce the level of slag contamination in the lakes and riverbeds of the Upper Columbia will likely be decided in future litigation, he said.
“The cleanup is going to be another issue,” he said.
WA State Department of Ecology is directing and funding an investigation and cleanup of smelter-related metals contamination on Northport’s City Park and boat launch waterfront area. The project area includes all permanently and seasonally exposed areas of the Columbia River bank and shore directly next to the Northport City Park and boat launch. From the river, this area is between Smelter Rock downstream to the Northport Highway 25 Bridge, and is associated with the historic Le Roi Smelter that was located at and around the City Park. The area remains polluted by smelter wastes that were dumped and dispersed along the shore. Our goal is to assess options for protecting people and restoring the environment next to the City Park. We look forward to working with local government, businesses, and residents during the investigation and cleanup process to understand your concerns and the community’s vision for the waterfront.
First round of beach sampling complete
We held a comment period March 13 – April 11, 2019, for the Remedial Investigation (RI) Work Plan and related State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) documents. Learn more about the investigation in the notice that was mailed to local residents and businesses.We responded to comments from two people and thank them for their input.
The draft RI Report will take several months to prepare following the initial field work and be publicly available later this year. We will hold a comment period for it when the draft Feasibility Study Report that lays out cleanup options is also ready.
Prior to that, we are planning to hold a public meeting to share the investigation results and start discussing options for cleanup. The purpose of having a public meeting prior to public comment on the reports is we’d like to incorporate the community’s City Park shore improvement and development ideas into the cleanup options.
The information gathered during the investigation will help Ecology understand where contamination exists and develop options for cleaning it up. However, based on past investigations in this area, we know several metals are present in smelter wastes in this area:
Metal levels known to be present do not pose an immediate, acute human health risk. However, long-term exposure may increase the risk of certain health problems. You can take simple actions to protect yourself and your family from exposure.
- Dirt Alert program – Industrial air emissions and pesticides used in farming have polluted large areas of soil with arsenic and lead. Our Dirt Alert program provides information on how you can protect yourself and your family.
Related Clean-Up Sites
Under the terms of a 2006 settlement agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Teck American Incorporated (Teck), a pollution investigation is being performed to establish the nature, extent and possible human health and ecological risks of contaminants found in the Upper Columbia River, which includes Lake Roosevelt and the Upper Columbia River Valley. The EPA refers to the investigation as the Upper Columbia River (UCR) Site Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS). For the history and detailed information of the study click here. Or to read Lake Roosevelt Forum’s RI/FS Public Guide click here.
There is a brief update on the status as of January 2018 of the studies that form the RI/FS. Final reports from completed studies can be found on the website click here to read. Once all studies are completed, EPA will perform both a human health risk assessment and baseline ecological risk assessment. Those results will direct the need for remediation.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) News
CCC Comments to EPA
For older information, please see the archive page
Cause for Alarm
INLANDER – June 30, 2016
Residents of a remote part of Stevens County say something is making them sick, but no one is sure exactly what it is… Read more
EPA Declines to Test Air Down River
SPOKESMAN REVIEW- May 16, 2018
The community of Northport, Washington, is about 20 miles south of the … Teck has spent more than $1.5 billion modernizing the Trail smelter … read more
Northport Residents Renew Calls For Air Monitoring
SPOKESMAN REVIEW – March 17, 2018
Clifford Ward lives near Northport, Washington, a town of about 300 … Chad Pederson, a Teck Resources spokesman, said the company has … Read more
Canadian Smelter Not Responsible
SPOKESMAN REVIEW – April 12, 2016
In an email, Teck spokesman Chad Pederson said the company … to the Canadian border, encompassing the area that’s now Northport.… read more
State to Step in After EPA Declines to Test Air
SPOKESMAN REVIEW – May 6, 2018
The Spokesman–Review reports that residents petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to install air monitors in Northport, about 20 miles … State modeling showed that Teck Resources Ltd.’s smelter could be sending … read more
Amid Health Problems, Some Northport Residents Look to Canadian Smelter
SPOKESMAN REVIEW – June 21, 2009
(Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman–Review) … Leaning on a cane at the river’s edge, the 52-year-old Northport woman … Her parents’ ranch lies about 15 miles downstream from Teck Resources Ltd.’s lead smelter in Trail, B.C. … a vice president for Teck American in Spokane, the company’s U.S. subsidiary... read more
WE APPRECIATE YOUR DONATIONS!
Thank you for helping us in our quest to hold the polluters accountable for the damages they have caused to the health of the Upper Columbia River (UCR), our residents and the wildlife. Donations are needed to continue our commitment to monitor, advise and participate in the ongoing environmental studies of the UCR site.
Please send your check or money order to the address below, payable to CCC.
Citizens for a Clean Columbia
P.O. Box 172
Northport, WA. 99157