Mining Company to Clean
by Nicholas Geranios
A Canadian mining company will begin cleaning up a beach on Lake Roosevelt later this month in a show of good faith over efforts to deal with pollution that flowed for a century from a British Columbia smelter into the U.S.
The black slag, which stands out against the pine trees, white sand and mile-wide waterway, contains zinc, copper, lead and arsenic that flowed down the river from a zinc smelter in Trail, British Columbia.
The slag has covered many beaches with a glasslike material and also sits on the bottom, out of public view.
The voluntary cleanup of Black Sand Beach shows that Teck American Inc. is serious about protecting the environment of the Columbia River north of Spokane, company vice president David Godlewski told The Associated Press.
"We are not asking people to trust us," Godlewski said. "We want them to give us a chance to do what we said we would do. We need to improve our relationships."
The pollution sparked an international diplomatic dispute about whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can order a company that is based and operates in Canada to clean up pollution in the U.S. A lawsuit over the issue is moving slowly through federal court in Spokane.
The Black Beach cleanup is a voluntary action negotiated with the state of Washington as a way to improve relations. Helen Bottcher of the EPA in Seattle said the agency had no problem with the lone beach being cleaned.
The beach near the town of Northport had a high concentration of heavy metals. It is not a formal park, but is popular with many locals, Bottcher said.
There are no plans to immediately clean other beaches, she said.
The work involves digging up the black slag, trucking it to the smelter at Trail for storage then placing clean fill on the site.
The company will start removing the slag in mid-September and the work will take four to six weeks, Godlewski said.
Under a 2006 deal between Teck, the EPA and Colville Tribes, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company will pay for a huge ongoing study of pollution in that stretch of the river.
The zinc smelter at Trail is 10 miles north of the Canadian border and stopped discharging into the river in 1994.
A decade ago, Colville Tribes petitioned the EPA to study contamination in Lake Roosevelt, a 150-mile stretch of the Columbia River from Grand Coulee Dam to the Canadian border.
In 2003, the EPA decided Teck was subject to the U.S. Superfund law, because releases from the smelter had traveled into the U.S. The agency demanded the company pay for studies to determine the extent of the contamination then clean it up.
Teck argued that it was not subject to U.S. laws. But the company in 2006 agreed - outside of the normal Superfund process - to spend $20 million to study the pollution.
That study will be highly detailed and form a baseline for future studies of pollution in that stretch of the river, Godlewski promised. The study is several years away from completion, and there is no deal on paying for cleanup.
The study will focus on areas such as the beaches, lake sediments, pollution in fish tissues and the impact on plankton that form the bottom of the food chain.
Teck to Pay for Black Sand Beach Clean Up by Sophia Aldous, Statesman-Examiner, 7/7/10
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