Tuesday, March 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lake study: Slag from B.C. smelter

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Most of the lead, cadmium and other heavy-metals pollution sampled from Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee Dam, came from a smelter in Trail, B.C., according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is testing international law by demanding that Teck Cominco, based in Vancouver, B.C., pay to clean up decades of pollution on the U.S. side of the border.

Teck Cominco has refused to submit to EPA authority, saying the agency has no power over a Canadian company operating in Canada. The company's lead and zinc smelter is about 10 miles north of the border, along the Columbia River.

The U.S. State Department has initiated talks with Canadian officials, hoping to settle the dispute.

Most of the dumping stopped in the mid-1990s. Teck Cominco has questioned whether its smelter is responsible for heavy-metals pollution in Lake Roosevelt.

USGS study results "indicate that the liquid effluent from the Teck Cominco smelter is the primary contributor of the large concentrations found in sediment samples from the middle and lower reaches of Lake Roosevelt," said Stephen Cox, lead author of the survey report.

Officials for Teck Cominco had not seen the report and could not comment on its contents, said Dave Godlewski, a company spokesman in Spokane.

The USGS study was conducted in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, some of whose members are suing Teck Cominco to force the cleanup.

The study indicates pollution of the lake exceeds tribal standards for human health, the tribes said in a news release. It also says that particles of slag, a byproduct of the smelter process, were breaking down and not inert, according to the release.

Decades of liquid discharges from the smelter contributed most of the zinc, lead, cadmium and other trace elements detected in sediment cores taken from the bottom of the lake by USGS scientists in 2002. Cores of fine-grained sediment were taken from six sites in the middle and lower reaches of the 135-mile-long reservoir. The lower reach extends from the dam to the Columbia's confluence with the Spokane River, and the middle reach extends from the confluence to Marcus Island.

Elevated concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc were found throughout much of the sediment. Concentrations were typically strongest in the deeper sections of the cores, decreasing toward the surface.

All samples exceeded tribal sediment-quality standards for cadmium, lead and zinc. More than 70 percent of the samples exceeded the standards for mercury, arsenic and copper.

The EPA has ordered the Canadian company to start paying for studies and an eventual cleanup of millions of tons of slag and heavy metals.

Some members of the tribe filed a unique Superfund citizens' lawsuit against Teck Cominco last summer, attempting to force cleanup of Lake Roosevelt. Washington state joined the lawsuit, saying a Superfund cleanup under EPA jurisdiction would be the best way to resolve the issue.

Teck Cominco's motion to dismiss the complaint was rejected in November by U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald in Yakima. The company has appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.

Teck Cominco has offered to spend up to $13 million on a Columbia River cleanup study.

Last summer, Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, told the EPA that he opposed a Superfund cleanup for Lake Roosevelt because of concerns about the precedent that would be set. Some U.S. mining and electric utilities fear Canada would in turn have grounds to complain about air and water pollution from their operations.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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