Call it the one that got away.
Teck Trail Operations was charged Friday with discharging pH-laden effluent into the Columbia River exceeding their permitted level.
Under the Fisheries and Environmental Management acts, Teck was charged for a March 5, 2011 incident in which water that was .6 pH above what they were allowed to discharge accidentally dumped into the river.
At the time there was no indication of an impact on fish or long-term environmental effects from the incident, according to a third-party assessment.
When the incident happened Teck did notify the Ministry of Environment and the Provincial Emergency Program, said Richard Deane, Teck environment, health and safety and public affairs manager.
“We take each incident where we have a misstep like this one and we want to respond to this and make sure we have addressed the potential causes of this incident,” he said.
In last 15 years the company has reduced their discharge of contaminants, mainly metals, to the river by over 95 per cent, Deane noted.
A high pH solution is used to condition the boiler water, and it was accidentally deposited to a drain that discharged into the Columbia River before it could be treated.
As a result, the pH of the discharge exceeded Teck’s permitted level.
Teck’s level was set at a pH of 8.5, and the pH for the measured period went to 9.1, said Deane. A measurement below seven means acid is present and a measurement above seven is basic (or alkaline). A recommendation for public water systems by the U.S. Environmental Protection Authority is for pH levels to be between 6.5 and 8.5.
That water treatment is used to demineralize the water so scale does not build up in the boilers.
Teck commissioned a third-party company—Massey Environmental Consultants—to conduct an environmental impact assessment, and the conclusion of that “was there was no indication of any long term impact on fish,” nor any impact on the aquatic environment.
“In fact, there was no indication there was any impact on the fish at all,” Deane said. “And the conclusion was there would be no long term impact as a result of the incident.”
Although Teck hadn’t had this situation occur in the past, new safeguards are in place, said Deane, including new equipment, new treatment systems and new control mechanisms. A $1.2-million monitoring system for effluent streams has been installed to allow for very rapid detection of any abnormal situations and respond to them quickly.
The charges will now be reviewed by Teck and the correct path forward will then be chosen to move the legal process forward.
“Then it will be determined what the consequence or result of the incident will be as a result of these charges,” said Deane.