Two separate spills into the Columbia River has Teck Trail Operations facing charges under the Environmental Management and Fisheries Act.
There is a potential range of outcomes, but it’s too early to speculate what the ensuing court process could determine.
“We are currently reviewing the charges with legal counsel and determining our next steps,” says Carol Vanelli Worosz, Teck’s community engagement leader.
The first incident was in December 2013, when up to 240 kilograms (kg) of zinc was released to an outfall, compared with the daily permit level of 175 kg.
One month later, on Jan. 28, up to 25,000 litres of an alkaline chemical solution was discharged into Trail’s domestic sewer line, which leads to the regional district’s sewage treatment plant before release into Bear Creek and then downstream to the Columbia River.
“We take these incidents very seriously,” said Vanelli Worosz. “A full investigation took place immediately following both incidents and changes to equipment and operating procedures took place to prevent re-occurrence.”
In the first incident, changes in automated controls and piping configuration were made to prevent zinc dust from discharging to the outfall, following equipment cleaning in the Sulphide Leach Plant.
“Response and operating procedures were also updated, with improved employee training,” Vanelli Worosz added.
Regarding the large spill from the sewer system, Vanelli Worosz said the containment area drain system was isolated and permanently disconnected from the sanitary sewer system.
She said a complete review of all sanitary sewer lines across the site was undertaken to confirm all piping configurations were accurate.
“A monitoring station has been installed on the domestic sewer line to allow for continuous pH and conductivity monitoring,” Vanelli Worosz explained.
“And is currently undergoing commissioning.”
Trail operations has three outfalls to the river that are monitored to detect and allow response to abnormal readings.
The company maintains the spills did not cause risk to human health and there were no long term impacts to fish or the environment.
Following the sewer line spill, then Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs initiated better communication between Teck and the city after he received media queries from as far away as Ontario prior to being briefed by the company.
At the time, Bogs couldn’t elaborate on the events to the media aside from details Teck outlined in its new release.
Regulatory authorities including the Provincial Emergency Program, Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada were notified of the incident immediately. Locally, the spill was quite evident for employees working at the treatment plant that day.