MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-06-02

US Update

2nd June 2006

Justice for tribes at Spokane and Colville, in Washington State, may finally be at hand, after protracted wrangling between the US and Canadian governments over who takes responsibility for massive pollution caused by Teck Cominco's notorious Trail smelter in British Colombia. It's the company which now has to pay for the remediation studies.

And finally, the victims (and their families) of "7/11" in New York may be getting somewhere towards a just settlement of their claims.

Canadian Mining Company to Assess Columbia River Contamination

NORTHPORT, Washington, ENS

2nd June 2006

After years of legal wrangling and negotiations, the U.S. and Canadian governments and the world's largest zinc producer have reached an international agreement to investigate contamination in the Upper Columbia River in northeast Washington state.

Teck Cominco, a mining company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has agreed to fund and perform an assessment of decades of past pollution in the river running downstream from Canada into U.S. waters.

The agreement calls for Teck Cominco to assess the environmental contamination caused by the company's smelter operations in Trail, 10 miles north of the U.S. border in northeast Washington state.

The assessment will be conducted under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and with the participation of the government of Canada, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state of Washington, and the Spokane and Confederated Colville Tribes.

"With this historic agreement, we have moved from opposite sides of the table to sit down together as environmental problem solvers," said Michael Bogert, EPA's regional administrator for the Northwest.

"By delivering results through cooperation over confrontation, the Bush administration is avoiding years of inefficient litigation and beginning the restoration of the river basin," Bogert said.

The multi-year study will assess risks from contamination to both people and the environment, and covers 150 river miles from the Canadian border downstream to the Grand Coulee Dam. "Teck Cominco has a long standing commitment to protect the environment as a responsible corporate citizen," said Doug Horswill, senior vice president, environment and corporate affairs.

"From day one Teck Cominco has voluntarily sought a cooperative arrangement with U.S. authorities to address the public’s concerns surrounding Lake Roosevelt. This agreement is a great step forward in allowing us to fulfill our commitment," said Horswill.

The studies will produce a science-based report on the ecological and human health conditions of the Columbia River from the Grand Coulee dam to the Canadian border, a length of about 150 miles. The Upper Columbia basin is a National Recreation Area visited by more than 1.5 million people annually.

"The Government of Canada’s participation was instrumental in achieving this agreement," said Horswill.

The agreement is fully enforceable and is consistent with U.S. Superfund models and policy, the EPA said.

Under the agreement, the company will complete a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study consistent with U.S. Superfund law. In addition, EPA retains full oversight authority for the duration of the study.

The company agrees to fully fund the multi-year study to its completion and to pay federal oversight costs up front. In addition the agreement provides for state and tribal involvement throughout the study and $1.1 million in annual funding for their participation. The company will place $20 million in escrow to provide financial assurance.

The EPA began its own assessment in the Upper Columbia River in the year 2000 following a petition by the Colville Confederated Tribes.

Teck Cominco to pay $20 million US for study of pollution of Columbia River


2nd June 2006

VANCOUVER (CP) - Teck Cominco Ltd. (TSX:TEK.SV.B) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached a deal that will see the company pay for a study of heavy-metal pollution of the Columbia River.

Teck Cominco agreed to put up an initial $20 million US to assess the impact of decades of upstream pollution in the river running from Canada into the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the study, which could eventually cost $30 million US but would be paid for by the mining company.

The agreement was reached after two years of negotiations between EPA and Teck Cominco and followed a lawsuit by the Colville Confederated Tribes of Eastern Washington and the state of Washington. Teck Cominco has agreed to spend another $1.1 million US to help involve the tribes and state.

"From Day 1 Teck Cominco has voluntarily sought a co-operative arrangement with U.S. authorities to address the public's concerns surrounding Lake Roosevelt. This agreement is a great step forward in allowing us to fulfil our commitment," said company spokesman Doug Horswill.

Teck Cominco had argued the lawsuit should be thrown out because the U.S. could not impose rules on Canadian companies operating on Canadian soil.

But in 2004, U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald disagreed, saying U.S. environmental laws are intended to clean up pollution inside the United States, regardless of its origin. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which had yet to make a decision.

The U.S. agency called the study an initial step toward launching a cleanup. It will assess risks from contamination to both people and the environment, and cover more than 200 kilometres of the river from the Canadian border downstream to the Grand Coulee Dam.

"We have moved from opposite sides of the table to sit down together as environmental problem-solvers," Michael Bogert, the agency's regional administrator for the Northwest, said Friday.

"The Bush administration is avoiding years of inefficient litigation and beginning the restoration of the river basin."

The issue of who will pay for the eventual cleanup still has not been resolved, Bogert said.

Austen Parrish, an associate professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said the settlement helps both governments avoid a crisis in U.S.-Canada relations.

"They managed to put off for another day the really difficult questions about whether U.S. environmental laws can apply extraterritorially to Canadian companies and vice versa," said Parrish, who has written about the dispute.

Parrish pointed to several other similar disputes that could have been affected including: North Dakota's draining of waters from Devils Lake that Manitoba fears will pollute the Red River and Lake Winnipeg; a disagreement between Alberta and Montana over use of the Milk and St. Mary rivers, and a dispute over the Tulsequah Chief mine in B.C. in a watershed that straddles B.C. and Alaska.

The lawsuit filed by the tribe and the state in 2004 was the first instance of Americans suing a Canadian company under the U.S. Superfund law. They accused the company of dumping millions of tonnes of heavy metals into the river for nearly 90 years, allowing it to flow into the United States.

They demanded the company comply with a December 2003 EPA order to pay for studies of pollution from a giant lead-zinc smelter in Trail, B.C., 16 kilometres north of the border. EPA officials said the 2003 order is being withdrawn as part of the settlement.

The order was "really the heart of the case," Bogert said, and with its withdrawal by EPA "it's uncertain what is really left of the pending litigation."

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation was uneasy about the settlement.

"We will need to pay very close attention to how the process is implemented," said D.R. Michel, a Colville Business Council member and chairman of the Tribes' natural resource committee.

"It gives Teck Cominco a tremendous amount of flexibility and we have grave concerns that it won't protect the health and welfare of tribal resources, tribal members and other U.S. citizens."

The Columbia runs through the tribe's reservation and provides fish for its members. About 25 kilometres south of the U.S.-Canada border, the river becomes Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee Dam.

EPA said it was the first time a settlement had been reached with a company over pollution that started in a foreign country and entered the United States.

But state regulators also expressed concern that the untested agreement may not be legally enforceable and limits the authority of the state and tribes in any potential cleanup.

"This agreement is a private contract between the federal government and an international mining company," said Jay Manning, director of the Washington state Department of Ecology.

"That departs from normal settlement and cleanup procedures under both federal and state cleanup laws."

The agreement lacks a typical consent order or consent decree that can be legally enforced and require a polluter to clean up contamination, Manning said, adding that his department hoped to "hold Cominco to its word about conducting a thorough and timely investigation."

Physical, Mental Health of 9/11 Survivors to Be Surveyed Again


2nd June 2006

To understand the health effects of the World Trade Center attacks on people who lived through the events of September 11, 2001 at close range, New York City and federal health officials will conduct another survey of the 71,000 people who enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry.

Results will be used to improve the recognition and treatment of conditions associated with stress and exposure to the environmental contaminants released when the World Trade Center towers were hit by hijacked airplanes, both for people who have registered and for others.

The follow-up survey was announced Thursday by New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden and Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and coordinator for federal World Trade Center (WTC) health response programs.

Dr. Frieden said, "The WTC attack was an unprecedented urban environmental event. Hundreds of thousands of residents, pedestrians, workers, and members of rescue, recovery and cleanup teams were exposed to psychological stress and potential environmental contaminants."

"At the time of the first survey in 2003 - 2004, thousands of people still reported significant mental health and respiratory impacts. Continued follow-up is important to identifying conditions that require further attention, and designing projects and treatments to help those still reporting adverse health effects from 9/11," he said. Dr. Howard said, "The Registry's follow-up survey is an important step forward in expanding our knowledge of the health effects of the events of 9/11 among diverse groups of individuals nearly five years after the tragic events."

All 71,000 enrollees who completed a 30 minute telephone interview during 2003 and 2004 are urged to participate in the follow up survey. The more enrollees who continue to participate in follow-ups, the better the Registry will be at assessing the health impacts of the 9/11 disaster and determining how to help enrollees and others who were directly affected by 9/11.

Designed to track registrants for up to 20 years, the Registry is already producing useful information. Health officials announced in April that about 8,000 survivors of buildings that collapsed or were damaged as a result of the World Trade Center attacks had substantial mental health problems and reported high levels of respiratory symptoms when interviewed in 2003 and 2004.

New York City Fire Department Captain Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and a member of the WTC Labor Advisory Committee, encouraged first responders to participate in the follow-up survey.

"The more people that participate in this and all planned follow up surveys for the WTCHR will help get information not just to our uniformed workers, but our residents, children and families," he said.

Starting this week, all enrollees who provided an email address will receive an email with a link to the on-line version of the survey. Those who did not provide an email address will be mailed a paper copy of the survey, which should be completed and returned in the pre-paid return envelope.

A specialized pediatric survey will be sent to parents and guardians of enrollees under 18 years of age.

The survey takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete and is available in English, Spanish and Chinese with other languages available via a translation hotline.

The follow up survey includes many of the same health questions from the initial interviews done in 2003-2004. It will also include follow-up questions to clarify information from the first survey, and new questions for specific groups in the Registry.

Enrollee responses are protected by a Federal Certificate of Confidentiality. Responses to the follow-up survey will provide an update on the current physical and mental health of 71,000 enrollees five years after the events of 9/11.

The World Trade Center Health Registry was opened on September 5, 2003, to track the health of Lower Manhattan residents, school children and staff, building occupants, persons in transit and visitors, as well as rescue, recovery and cleanup workers and volunteers who were directly exposed to the collapse of the World Trade.

Marijo Russell O’Grady, a lower Manhattan resident who chairs the WTC Community Advisory Board said, "The Registry will give us valuable information about the potential long-term effects of 9/11. As a resident of lower Manhattan, I can say that none of us will soon forget this tragedy, and information the Registry will provide is crucial to our recovery."

The largest effort ever made in the United States to systemically monitor the health of people exposed to a large-scale disaster, the Registry is the only resource designed to track and maintain contact with those most affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

Dr. Lorna Thorpe, DOHMH’s Deputy Commissioner for Epidemiology Services, said, "To all of our WTC health registrants, we thank you for participating in the first survey and making this registry a strong resource to learn about the potential health effects of the WTC attacks. We are counting on your help again to help us learn as much as we can from this terrible tragedy."

Visit for more information on the Registry.

The Registry maintains a comprehensive directory of available resources and treatment options to benefit participants and others affected by the disaster at:

The Registry is also a unique resource open to health experts around the world to help them conduct more in-depth health investigations at:

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