Teck Metals is taking full responsibility for discharging mercury into the Columbia River in Trail last year, just weeks after leachate from Teck’s lead and zinc smelting operation overflowed into Stoney Creek.
The mining giant has agreed to pay $325,000 for the two incidents after participating in a two-day community justice forum that wrapped up Wednesday.
About 14.8 kilograms of solution, containing mercury but largely made up of water, escaped from Trail Operations during the reconfiguration of piping to the Effluent Treatment Plant on Oct. 7, 2010.
One of the pumps in the sump system failed, which allowed solution to overflow to a line that discharges into the Columbia River, exceeding the 400 grams of mercury permitted to flow into the river per day.
“Water quality tests at the time of the spill showed that the concentration of mercury in the Columbia River downstream from the Trail Operation was well below the standard set by the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines and the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines,” said Marcia Smith, vice president of corporate affairs.
“We have continual testing but once the spill reached the river the solution that contains the mercury was immediately diluted and dispersed.”
This week’s forum that used the principles of restorative justice was recommended after a joint investigation under the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Management Act.
“This is the first time that we’ve participated in the community justice forum and I understand it’s the first time Environment Canada has – it’s a new process,” said Smith. “But I think it’s important that money stays in the community, that’s an important part of it and we think it’s a good thing.”
The funding will go toward seven community environmental initiatives, including the LeRoi Community Foundation, Environmental Damages Fund, Gyro Park Spray Park Water Recycling Project and Bear Aware.
Beyond the financial contribution, Teck is working toward identifying potential Columbia River entry points through sumps, completing a review of all process sumps to ensure piping configurations will not allow for entry into any river discharge systems and is establishing procedures that will ensure process solution doesn’t enter the sanitary sewer system.
Teck has taken a number of steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring, including proceeding with the second phase of an $8.3-million effluent spill reduction program.