Teck Trail Operations’ admission of 100 years of polluting the Columbia River last week does not support a previous CBC story claiming the citizens of a nearby U.S. town are adversely affected by the company’s operations, says the chair of the Trail Health and Environment Committee.
Gord DeRosa said he does not believe allegations that Teck’s effluent and slag tainted the health of the residents of Northport, Wash., contradicting an Aug. 14 CBC story.
The CBC claimed a Harvard Medical School study had found an unusually high—10 to 15 times the normal rate of disease—incidence of colitis and Crohn’s disease in Northport, located downstream on the Columbia River from Teck’s smelter.
In response, DeRosa—also a city councillor—said the City of Trail sent two letters out of a closed council meeting to the Ministry of Health in Victoria asking them to reaffirm the findings of two previous studies, absolving the city’s major employer.
“This is a not a new issue for us,” said DeRosa.
“We have heard the allegations before, and only by extension is city council reaffirming that it is not an issue for us.”
In 1994 the U.S Centre of Disease Control found there was higher incidence of inflammatory intestinal disease in other counties than Northport. Ten years later, in 2004, the B.C. Ministry of Health found the incidence of the two diseases in Greater Trail residents to also be well within the provincial limits.
The chair of the Trail Health and Environment Committee was chagrined by the negative press on an issue that was taken out of context.
“It was a very, very negative plight made on CBC radio five days in a row,” DeRosa stated during the committee’s last meeting on Sept. 4. “It went province-wide and it certainly did not reflect well. Even the suspicion or the accusation … was very unfortunate.”
Although the Harvard study ruled out a genetic connection—as few of the Northport victims were related—the study did not establish whether environmental toxins were behind Northport’s rate of Crohn’s disease and colitis.
The story perturbed councillor Rick Georgetti and he wondered how the disease could be so prevalent across the border from the city’s smelter, when the same conditions were not evident in the community that housed the operation.
“I don’t believe that (story). If that was the case then we would have an epidemic here because we are so much closer,” he pointed out. “And we don’t have any high cases. I don’t believe there is a correlation between Teck and the incidents in Northport.”
Teck Metals made an “admission of fact” in an agreement reached Sept. 10 with the Colville Confederated Tribes over environmental damage caused by effluent discharges dating back to 1896.
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.
Acting Mayor Sean Mackinlay said at one time everything got thrown into the river—including waste from the City of Trail—so there has been that kind of impact on the ecosystem.
He noted that Teck was now publicly committed to remedying any environmental problems from the past, including the slag that has built up in Lake Roosevelt.
“At present, with what we have been looking at from studies, the fish and the water habitat in that area is actually some of the best in all of the state of Washington, so it is relatively quite clean,” he said.
“Of course, we would have hoped there had been no slag at all, but that’s an impossibility.”
Mackinlay discussed the situation last week with Teck’s communications manager Richard Deane and the company expressed ongoing commitment any cleanup that needed to get done would, in fact, be completed.
And given that council was responsible for the health and safety of the community, DeRosa was satisfied the Silver City’s citizens were safe.
“I haven’t heard anything about a rise in cases in Trail,” he said. “If Interior Health had any concerns they would have let us know about it. Ultimately, that is their job.”