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Teck Cominco to get Test Results of Lead Spill into Columbia River

by Staff
The Canadian Press, May 30, 2008

VANCOUVER - Teck Cominco Ltd. was waiting for test results Friday to reveal the impact of a lead and acid spill into the Columbia River from its smelter in Trail, B.C.

Teck spokesman Richard Deane said the company was testing the water at two locations - its sampling station near the plant and another about 10 kilometres downstream in B.C. - to confirm if there has been any impact on water quality.

"The key issue of concern is lead, so we are looking at what the concentrations of lead would be in the water," Deane said.

"The volume of the spill relative to the volume of the Columbia River is quite small. Effects are unlikely. However, we do wish to confirm that through the sampling process, which is currently underway."

Deane said the company's testing is being forwarded to the province, which has also asked for the results.

"We have a long history of operation in this area and a close working relationship with regulatory authorities," Deane said.

"If they feel additional testing is required I'm sure they'll undertake that measure."

Teck is also investigating how the spill happened.

Teck Cominco has said about 950 kilograms of lead in solution was discharged into the river on Wednesday, after the breakdown of a heat exchanger in the lead refinery.

The refinery was shut down for an hour to trace the problem. Deane said there was "negligible" impact on production.

"One of the things we'll definitely be looking out of that investigation is what measures need to be put in place going forward to minimize the chances of this type of event occurring again in the future," Deane said.

The spill happened about 11 kilometres north of the U.S. border, which has also prompted Washington state officials to do their own testing of the river on their end.

Cathy Cochrane of the state's ecology department said its test results are expected be ready next week.

While she doesn't anticipate any health threats from the spill, "any time you put lead into the water like that it's a big concern."

Cochrane said the spill isn't unusual for Teck, which has had larger spills from the same refinery in the distant past. In recent years, she said the incidents have been less frequent.

The spill comes as Teck Cominco and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting for years over who must pay to clean up millions of tonnes of smelter pollutants containing heavy metals and mercury released into the Columbia over a century of smelter operations.

The case has international ramifications because the U.S. government is contending that its laws apply to a Canadian company operating in Canada because the pollution crossed the border into the U.S.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January denied an appeal by the Vancouver-based company of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said Tech Cominco was responsible for cleaning up the river.

Teck Cominco had argued that it's not subject to Superfund cleanup regulations

Cochrane said Washington state is preparing to go back to the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals later this year.

Teck Cominco shares closed up 3.7 per cent or $1.76 at $49.17 on the Toronto Stock Exchange Friday.

Teck Cominco to get Test Results of Lead Spill into Columbia River
The Canadian Press, May 30, 2008

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