Teck liable for Columbia River cleanup

A Washington court has ruled that Teck is liable for the cost of cleaning up the contamination of the river south of the border.

The cost of Teck’s historical troubles downstream on the Upper Columbia River in the U.S. won’t be known for another three years as the company was delivered another legal salvo Friday in its attempt to clean up its act in the U.S.

In a decision announced late Friday in Eastern Washington, Judge Lonny Suko ruled Teck Metals Ltd. was liable for the cost of cleaning up the contamination in the river south of the border.

According to a declaratory judgment, Teck is responsible under the U.S. Superfund Law and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for response costs, the amount of which will be determined in a subsequent phase of the case.

That cost won’t be known until maybe 2015, said Richard Deane, Teck’s manager of public affairs.

“We expect that phase to be deferred until the current studies of the Upper Columbia River in the U.S. are largely complete,” he said.

The ruling was not unexpected,  he added, as Teck had acknowledged in September that historical discharges from Teck Trail Operations for 100 years from its mining and smelting operations polluted the Columbia River in Washington.

Teck made the “admission of fact” in a lawsuit brought by Colville Confederated Tribes over environmental damage caused by the effluent discharges dating back to 1896.

The company entered into an agreement regarding certain facts with the plaintiffs—in Pakootas et al versus Teck Metals Ltd.—in civil court proceedings under CERCLA.

Under the agreement Teck stated some hazardous substances in the slag and effluent discharged from the Teck Trail Operations between 1896 and 1995 ended up in the Upper Columbia River in the U.S.

The latest decision gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the ability to tell Teck to pay for the clean up, and for any ongoing damages and losses that result from the contamination. That issue has yet to be determined by the court.

Teck will now review with counsel and determine what the next steps will be.

Irrespective of the legal process, the company remains “fully” committed to completing the studies on the Upper Columbia River in the U.S that are required to assess the risks to the contaminants, said Deane.

“And, if necessary, we are committed to remedy the effects of past practices on the Upper Columbia River in Washington State,” he said.

To date, Teck has invested $55 million in cooperation with the U.S EPA on the “comprehensive investigation of environmental conditions in the Upper Columbia River in Washington State,” Deane explained.

The study of the river is largely advanced but it will be a few years yet until analysis is complete.

“And the initial results we are seeing is it is very encouraging and they are showing that the beaches are safe, that the water quality in the river is better than water quality standards in the U.S. and Canada,” he said, “and further, the fish in the river are safer to eat than in any other water body in Washington State.”

According to a Canadian Press story Monday, the Washington Court dismissed Teck’ s attempt to avoid US litigation under Environmental Protection Law by claiming a Canadian company outside the US can not be held liable for damages.

The judge also found that Teck knew the hazardous waste disposed of in the Columbia River—heavy metals such as lead, mercury, zinc and arsenic—was likely to cause harm.