MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian Mining Company to Assess Columbia River Contamination

Published by MAC on 2006-06-02

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.

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