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2020 Draft Human Health Risk Assessment Public Guide

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The Lake Roosevelt Forum recently published the Public Guide of the 2020 Draft Human Health Risk Assessment for the Lake Roosevelt and Upper Columbia River Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (UCR RI/FS).

The 2020 Public Guide provides data on the EPA’s draft Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). The HHRA investigates the heavy metal toxins of concern, the multiple exposure pathways, and the exposed population. The EPA uses established benchmarks to access the risk to residents and visitors, and implement risk prevention.

The Public Guide also provides details on samplings, cleanups, and other actions conducted by Teck, and overseen by the EPA, during the Lake Roosevelt and Upper Columbia River Remedial Investigation. The results of which were used in the HHRA. The Guide also provides the public with precautionary measures to protect visitors and residents who may be exposed to contaminants of concern.

Northport Waterfront Cleanup Project

PROJECT BACKGROUND

The Washington 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 Town 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 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 near-shore and shoreline environment next to the 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.

The draft Remedial Investigation was completed in October 2019. We will hold a comment period for it when the draft Feasibility Study Report that lays out cleanup options is also ready. We are planning to finish developing cleanup options by late 2020.

During the feasibility study work, 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 Town Park shore improvement and development ideas into the cleanup options.

CONTAMINATION

The information in the draft Remedial Investigation Report 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.

RELATED CLEANUP SITES

Teck pegged with U.S. tribes’ $1.6M legal bill

Aug. 20, 2020 11:00 a.m

A previous ruling holds Teck Metals liable for response costs incurred by the confederated tribes

Historic pollution from the Trail smelter, the Columbia River, and an in-progress lawsuit filed by Colville tribes versus the mining giant Teck Resources was at the centre of an agreement in an American courtroom earlier this month.

On Aug. 6, Teck Resources agreed to pay another $1.6 million to confederated tribes south of the border to cover their legal costs associated with ongoing litigation related to pollutants the Trail plant dumped into the river from early industry days up until 1995.null

There has been only one ruling in the case to date, and it holds Teck Metals Ltd. (TML) liable for response costs amassed by the plaintiffs – the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation – during these years-long legal proceedings.

“Because the remedial investigation/feasibility study and the litigation are ongoing, the plaintiffs continue to incur costs,” explained Chris Stannell, Teck spokesperson.

“TML is paying those costs as they are incurred … this $1.6-million payment represents further response costs incurred by the tribal plaintiffs covering the period from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2019,” he said.

“The litigation is ongoing, and is not expected to conclude before 2023 at the earliest.”

The Aug. 6 settlement agreement comes almost four years to the day since a Washington federal judge awarded the tribes more than $8.25 million from Teck under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) for costs relating to the pollution that contained heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.

“We have consistently said that if there are real risks to human health or the environment associated with historical emissions from Trail Operations, either in Canada or in the U.S., Teck will take appropriate steps to address them,” Stannell told the Times.

“We have spent over US$125 million to date on studies of the Upper Columbia River in the United States to determine if there are real risks to human health or the environment, and the results to date indicate that the water is clean, the fish are as safe to eat as fish in other waterbodies in Washington State, and the beaches are safe for recreation – other than those affected by contamination not associated with Teck.”

The Trail smelter has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States border.

The company has acknowledged in court that, between 1930 and 1995, the plant intentionally discharged nearly 10 million tons of slag and effluent directly into the Columbia River from its mining and fertilizer operations in Trail.

The tribes sued Teck in July 2004 to recover costs to deal with the pollution. Shortly thereafter, Washington state intervened as a plaintiff. 

In June 2006, Teck signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. EPA stating, the company is voluntarily funding and conducting a remedial investigation and feasibility study to evaluate the nature and the extent of contamination; determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of any contamination; and determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk. 

At that time, the company agreed to provide over $1 million per year to the Colville and Spokane Tribes, Washington State and the Department of the Interior to for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko previously awarded the tribes $8.25 million – $4.9 million stemming from litigation and $3.4 million from expenses related to water investigative studies – incurred through the end of 2013, along with prejudgment interest. 

Teck appealed Suko’s Aug. 2016 ruling, though it was upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit two years later.

Human Health Risk Assessment Perspectives from CCC

Mindy Smith, M.D. M.S.
CCC Board Secretary

In concert with EPA’s release of the draft Upper Columbia RI/FS Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA), I was asked to work with Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC) board members to give our sense of public and CCC perceptions about the document and process of sharing information.

These impressions are based on a fairly recent public meeting and discussions with board members and people from the town of Northport (population about 350 people). We will be interested to see how many of our questions the HHRA addresses, or whether a different forum or report will be required.

One question goes back to 2004, which is when soil removal due to lead contamination on properties within Northport was based on a lead threshold of or exceeding 1000 ppm. Residential soil cleanup voluntarily conducted by Teck between from 2015 – 2018, however, used a threshold of 700 ppm. What does this mean to the future of Northport properties with between 700 – 1000 ppm? EPA is working on this issue separately, and we strongly support this effort to extend cleanup to properties with lead levels at 700 ppm or more.

At the meeting, EPA shared how they estimated the probability of adverse human health effects from lead. However, this information does not address questions about specific human health effects, both past and future. While much of this is outside EPA’s purview, the concerns about remediation and provision of adequate surveillance and monitoring, such as air monitoring, to ensure future protection against adverse health effects from contamination seems relevant. Without knowing which lead level will be selected for remediation, these concerns remain. 

There’s on-going interest in soil amendments to reduce lead exposure in areas that do not meet removal action levels and in expanses of undisturbed land. Citizens are asking whether other cutting-edge technologies are being considered as amendments such as hemp or fungus (bioremediation). And what changes in soil contamination occur as areas are burned or otherwise altered. I, along with others, worry that effective amendments will not be found, and that hand washing will provide insufficient protection.

These and other concerns go to the heart of community questions about past and future health effects, influence on property values, availability of legacy funding, additional sampling, and the perceived need for reinstated and expanded air monitoring.

From my perspective, I am also concerned about whether the HHRA will truly reflect risk as it is difficult to know the cumulative effect of contaminants, and there is no clear way to combine lead and non-lead risks into a single risk assessment. Further, the gravity-flow and pumped creek-impoundment water systems used for irrigation and sometimes drinking, like my own water system, have not been evaluated.

While I have confidence in the good will of most of those involved in this process on both sides of the border and the impressive work done over the past 14 years, I do not have confidence in the current administration and whether sufficient clean-up and monitoring will occur now and in the future.

At the state level, the Washington Department of Ecology Air Monitoring Program disappointed us when they

said they had insufficient manpower to apply for an EPA grant for air monitoring in our area. When we suggested citizen volunteers could be trained in data collection, they disagreed.

This is despite DOE’s 2017 report entitled “Preliminary Review and Evaluation of Available Air Quality Monitoring Data and Consideration of Potential Present-Day Health Risks.”  This report recommended updated air monitoring be conducted in our area to analyze heavy metals known to be emitted from the Trail smelter which “may further contribute to potential human health impacts.” On the other hand, Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program has provided invaluable assistance, including current work to consider further cleanup of the Northport Park shoreline area.

It will be interesting to read the draft HHRA. We’re eager and hopeful to see how many community-based questions will be successfully or fully addressed. EPA’s RI/FS Remedial Project Manager has thus far been very responsive to our comments. Further, to ensure that the public is well informed about the HHRA and able to provide input, EPA has agreed to a 60-day public comment period and will be providing two webinars. In that positive vein, CCC remains very committed to supporting the outreach process and, as necessary, helping collate public input with EPA.

The draft Human Health Risk Assessment is available on EPA’s website: Click here to view

EPA 2020 Soil Cleanup of Northport, Washington

During the next couple of months, the EPA will clean up the soil on 16 properties located within Northport town limits. EPA has determined that this cleanup is warranted to address a threat to
people’s health from exposure to lead in their soil. EPA is working with property owners, the Mayor of Northport, and the Northport Town Council to schedule and conduct soil cleanup activities.

CLEANUP PLANS


In August, EPA will begin the soil cleanup in the town of Northport. With the consent of property owners, cleanup will begin at residential properties and common use areas. Common use areas include the Lyn Kaste Gould Memorial Park, the lawn at the Northport Community Library, the play area at the Northport Community Garden, the lawn at the Northport American Legion vacant lot, and the lawn at the Northport Welcome Center. EPA estimates the entire cleanup to take 8 to 10 weeks. Work will be done during the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through
Saturday. While the cleanup is taking place, you will see construction equipment such as dump trucks, excavators, graders, and water trucks working in town. EPA and its contractors will make every effort to be a good neighbor while the project is underway

CONTROLLING DUST


EPA and its contractors will control dust where cleanup activities are taking place. They will apply water to surfaces and air monitoring instruments will be placed at the properties being cleaned up to ensure dust is controlled effectively.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION


Areas for soil removal were identified based on an October 2019 review of 2004 data reports of properties within Northport town limits with lead levels near or above 700 ppm (parts per million). When these areas were first evaluated in 2004, cleanup was not conducted because EPA’s removal action level at the time was 1,000 ppm. The threshold of 700 ppm is the same level EPA used when working with Teck American to clean up 18 residential properties outside of Northport town limits from 2015 – 2018. The use of this lower threshold represents advances in scientific understanding of the adverse developmental effects of lead to young children and babies. EPA’s October 2019 reevaluation documented the condition and layout of each of the properties identified in 2004. This included interviews with each property owner about changes to property use since the 2003/2004 soil sampling. Cleanup actions will focus on lawns, gardens, and play areas with a high likelihood of exposure to contaminated soil. Based on possible use changes, EPA collected and analyzed additional soil samples to better delineate the contaminated area. The results of the October 2019 removal site evaluation provide the information that supports the planned time-critical removal action.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the following people:

Technical Information

  • Monica Tonel, EPA On-Scene Coordinator
  • Call: 206-348-2692 (mobile)
  • Email: tonel.monica@epa.gov

General Information

  • Kay Morrison, Community Involvement Coordinator
  • Call: 800-424-4372, ext. 8321
  • Email: morrison.kay@epa.gov

Human Health Risk Assessment Webinar

Dear CCC members and friends,

We have the opportunity, as one of the communities most affected by Teck smelter discharges into the air and water, to provide comments on the EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment. This document estimates the nature and probability of adverse health effects in humans who may be exposed to chemicals in contaminated environmental media, now or in the future. It will be used to help determine the need for cleanup or other remedial measures to reduce contaminant exposure and protect public health.

As you read through this document, you might consider the effectiveness of past removal actions and whether they were sufficient, whether there are any exposure media (e.g., water, beaches) that have not been fully considered, if you are comfortable with the conclusions about the safety of beaches and fish consumption, and which lead benchmarks should be used for clean-up.

To help prepare you for making comments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be holding two identical webinars, on June 10 and July 15, both starting at 5:30 pm to give as many people as possible a chance to learn more about the HHRA directly from the EPA. If you wish to attend the webinars, please preregister at:

www.eventbrite.com/e/epa-upper-columbia-river-webinars-tickets-105584696670

The draft Human Health Risk Assessment is available on EPA’s website:

www.epa.gov/columbiariver/upper-columbia-river-remedial-investigation-feasibility-study

Comments must be received by July 24th. If you have questions about the assessment and cannot attend a webinar please contact Robert Tan at: (206) 553-2580. Also, feel free to email me if needed; best address is smithm69@msu.edu.

Best to all and stay safe and well,

Mindy Smith, CCC secretary  

The Wall Unseen

While a border wall is built to the south — There exists a border wall to the north

Not built of concrete and steel — But of money, politics, and diplomacy

It’s not visual, but can be visualized — It’s existence seen circumstantially

When trespassed it grants sanctuary — To Canadian toxins and slag illegally

Squatters claiming possession adversely — To Columbia’s riverbed in perpetuity

Tho harmful to fish and benthics alike — Efforts at needed remediation

Result in collision — Against this wall unseen

Behind this wall extortionists lie — Wearing top hats, pinstripes, and tails

Canada making threats of reciprocation — If the U.S. pursues Columbia’s remediation

For past transboundary violations — by U.S. rust belt corporations

To this threat our government is complying — Hostaging Columbia, her inhabitants dying

Polluters escaping by recrimination — Victims subsidizing culpable corporations

Better both Nations not shield — Their transgressing corporations

For both Nations in violation — The Boundary Waters Treaty 1909

By allowing their pollutants — To cross the border line

The wall unseen is government — Constructed to protect their polluters

~  Old Man River

Canadian mining company must pay Colville tribe costs tied to clean-up of Upper Columbia River

Sat., June 15, 2019

Matt Wolohan squats near a sandbar on the Columbia River.
(Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

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.

Mindy Smith and the Rev. Martin Wells: Much is at stake in Columbia River treaty’s update

Thurs., July 4, 2019, 8:52 p.m.

By Mindy Smith and the Rev. Martin Wells

Maps of the Columbia River circulating in the U.S. often stop at the international border, as though the world beyond is unknown. Rivers, forests and wildlife don’t recognize such borders. For thousands of years salmon returned to spawn along this undivided river. Indigenous people lived and buried their dead here.

The international border is the 49th parallel, drawn in London and Washington, D.C., across the river-watershed home for indigenous people and fish and wildlife. Despite the political line, we remain one region with shared and binding history, culture and economy. Americans and Canadians together.

One tie that binds us together is reciprocal education. Community Colleges of Spokane and Selkirk College are jointly hosting the sixth annual international conference “One River – Ethics Matter” in Castlegar, B.C., on May 30-31.

Castlegar is located at the confluence of rivers, the Kootenay and Columbia. With worsening forest fires and massive salmon die-offs from warming downstream reservoirs, the ethics conference will spotlight youth at risk, climate change, and renewing the Columbia River Treaty.

Indigenous, religious and academic leaders will gather to discuss the Columbia River’s past and future, ethics, and in the words of the Northwest Roman Catholic bishops’ Columbia River Pastoral Letter, actions we must take “to effect a spiritual, social and ecological transformation of the watershed.” 

Only one-sixth of the Columbia River Basin is in Canada, producing about 40 percent of the water flowing into the Pacific Ocean. In especially warm years with little snow, that number climbs toward 50 percent. With climate change, the Columbia’s cold, water-rich Upper Columbia is increasingly valuable.

Just as tribes gathered at Kettle Falls to trade goods and fish for ocean salmon, people today engage in regional commerce. Canadians travel to Spokane, Colville, Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and many other communities. Americans travel north, experiencing beautiful British Columbia. Canadian and American flags fly side-by-side. Dollars trade hands in a robust, regional border economy.

The Peace Arch at the border between the two countries near Vancouver, B.C., is inscribed: “Children of a common mother,” symbolizing enduring friendship across a long international border. Here, outside the Columbia Basin, Canadians’ and Americans’ political leaders met in 1964 to complete the Columbia River Treaty that would devastate the Upper Columbia.

The Columbia River Treaty manages for two purposes only: hydropower and flood risk. The treaty is silent on health of the river, riparian habitat, survival of salmon and salmon-based cultures, and indigenous sovereignty. Once, 16 million to 30 million salmon returned to the Columbia River Basin annually, the world’s richest salmon river. Under the current treaty, the river is managed as a dam-machine that generates wealth for some at costs to others.

The treaty authorized the construction of four major water storage dams – one in Montana and three in B.C., setting in place American-Canadian joint governance of the international Columbia River. Building these dams and reservoirs required logging, bulldozing and flooding vast wildlife and fisheries-rich forested valleys of the Upper Columbia. Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar, B.C., forced 2,300 people from their homes.

Treaty negotiations began a year ago. Much is at stake for the Upper Columbia on both sides of the border. Negotiations are closed to the public.

Regional citizens, acting as a “community of the Columbia,” are striving to influence their destiny through learning about and urging that an updated international river treaty get right what the original treaty got wrong. Health of the river – “Ecosystem-based Function” including restoring salmon above Grand Coulee Dam – needs to be added as a third treaty purpose coequal with hydropower and flood risk. The river needs a voice.

“If you are not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” Canada has invited aboriginal First Nations into the treaty negotiation sessions as observers. We remain hopeful that American negotiators will also invite the aboriginal Columbia Basin tribes.

Against a backdrop of historic wrongs and unfolding climate change, stewardship and justice-based river governance is within our grasp. Water is fundamental. Water is life. As the indigenous tribes who speak Syilx, one of the Columbia’s indigenous languages, have memorialized in their Water Declaration, “When we take care of the land and water, then land and water take care of us. This is our law.”


Mindy Smith, MD, MS, is a family physician and medical editor who works with Citizens for a Clean Columbia advocating for the Columbia River ecosystem. The Rev. Martin Wells is retired bishop of the Eastern Washington, Idaho and Wyoming Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

Upper Columbia River Site Study

Teck Trail Smelter, a canadian lead and zinc smelter located 10 miles from the US border in Trail B.C., has contaminated the Upper Columbia River and upland areas near the US border since 1896. Teck released heavy metal toxins including; arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and other hazardous metals through their smokestack emissions into the atmosphere and directly into the Columbia River in the form of slag, a sand like by-product of the smelting process.

1988 image of slag being released from Teck smelter into the Columbia River
(photo: Joel Rogers)

UCR Remedial Investigation Feasibility Study

In 2006, Teck American, Inc., entered into an agreement with the EPA to fund and conduct the Upper Columbia River Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) from the U.S.-Canadian border to Grand Coulee Dam and surrounding areas. The EPA is overseeing Teck’s RI/FS.

During the Remedial Investigation (RI) phase; Teck conducted soil and sediment sampling and analysis studies, multiple fish studies, water sampling and an assessment of past air monitoring data of the area. The purpose of the investigation was to collect environmental samples and analyze the data to identify heavy metal contaminants, contaminated locations, and assess the risk of exposure to human health and the environment.

The Feasibility Study (FS) phase will be developed after the RI phase has been completed. It will offer cleanup options for contaminated areas discovered during the RI.

Sturgeon study along the upper Columbia River

Human Health Risk Assessment

The EPA is responsible for the Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). The data collected during the RI on the contaminants of concern will be used by the EPA to assess if the levels and routes of exposure to the identified contaminants pose a potential risk to public health.


Additional Information & Resources