Settlement Makes Canadian Mining Company Liable For U.S. River Cleanup

By Steve Jackson

A U.S. District Court has found a Canadian mining company liable for clean up of mine waste in the Columbia River.  The case is nearly a decade old.
 
Teck Metals has been found liable under the federal Superfund Law for contaminating the Columbia River with tons of mining waste over several decades.  The pollution originated at the Teck smelter in Trail, British Columbia.

Judge Lonny Suko ruled that “Teck's leadership knew its slag and effluent flowed from the Trail downstream and into Lake Roosevelt, but continued to discharge waste into the Columbia River.”

The court estimated that Teck discharged nearly 10 million tons of the material known as slag between 1930 and 1995. Slag contains numerous heavy metals such as zinc, cadmium and arsenic.
 
The State of Washington and the Colville Tribe brought the suit against the Canadian company. Tribal Business Council Chair John Sirius said he was happy with the ruling.

Sirius: "I know Department of Ecology is on board, and now we're looking forward to, this decision really gives legs to the EPA and it should give a lot of impetus by Teck to join in and be a full partner in participating in this process of fully investigating the extend of the damages, cleaning it up, and restoring the river."

Sirius says he believes serious studies still need to be done to determine the human health threat posed by the heavy metals.   A Teck spokesperson told us earlier this year that studies paid for by the company have not indicated that the slag has harmed water quality or had a negative impact on fish.  Dave Godlewski says human health impact studies are the responsibility of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  He adds that it's far too early to determine the eventual cost of any clean up on the Upper Columbia.

Godlewski: "There's absolutely no estimate of any mitigation [that] would be required on the Upper Colubmia River.  There have been numbers that have been bandied about in the past but they are based upon no scientific evidence whatsoever.  What we're doing here is looking at the real risks in the Upper Columbia that are the result of our past disposal practices.  That will determine at the end of the day what mitigations or what mediations are necessary.  So there's no estimate, no idea right now what that would be."

Godlewski says it's estimated the studies could be completed by 2015, and the cleanup could begin at that time.

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