Studies on waterways in the Upper Columbia were underway this week by a crew from Teck American. (Sheri Regnier photo)

Fleet from Teck American anchors in Trail

Ongoing studies underway on the effect of historic pollution from Trail smelter

Research scientists from Teck American made their way north of the border to Trail this week to carry out specific studies on the river floor.

Crews contracted from the company’s Spokane headquarters anchored their vessels at the Gyro Park boat launch on Monday in preparation for sediment testing at three nearby sites, which is all part of continuing research on the effects of historic pollution from the Trail smelter.

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Studies are underway now because the flow of the Columbia River slows down this time of year.

“This is a sediment sampling program being undertaken by Teck American Incorporated to inform a comprehensive environmental study called a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) of the Upper Columbia River,” Chris Stannell, from Teck public relations, told the Trail Times.

The scope of study encompasses the section of river from the Grand Coulee Dam to the U.S./Canadian Border.

For this particular leg of research, sediment samples are being collected at three areas – Birchbank, Genelle Eddy and Lower Arrow Lakes.

“This week’s research being carried out by environmental scientists is just one study associated with the overall RI/FS,” Stannell said Wednesday. “The study is being done now as velocities in the river system are the safest this time of year and the study is scheduled to be completed later this week.”

Teck has been working on the RI/FS for more than 10 years, as a means to identify whether historic disposal practices at the Trail plant have caused unacceptable risks to human health or the environment.

“To date, these studies are showing in general that the water in the Columbia River is clean, fish are as safe to eat as fish from other water bodies in Washington State, and beaches are safe for recreational activities,” said Stannell.

The Trail smelter has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States border.

Permitted discharge of granulated slag into the Columbia River ceased in 1995. The company maintains that present permitted discharges are lower than natural metal loads carried by the river.

Since the late 1970s, Teck has invested approximately $1.5 billion to improve the operation’s environmental performance, and maintains, “water quality in the Columbia River at the international border meets or exceeds stringent regulatory levels in either B.C. or the U.S.”

On June 2, 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 extent of contamination to determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of contamination; and to determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk.

In the event that action is required, 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 provide for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.

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