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.

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.