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Ecology and salmon related articles

Company: Columbia River
Back to Pre-spill Lead Levels

by Nicolas Geranios
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 2008

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Levels of lead in the Columbia River have returned to where they were before last week's accidental spill into the river, according to Teck Cominco, which operates the giant Canadian smelter just north of the border where the spill occurred.

While lead levels did increase in the river after last Wednesday's spill, they did not exceed British Columbia health standards, and returned to normal by the next day, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company said.

"We are conducting an investigation as to the cause to better be able to prevent accidents like this from occurring in the future," said Dave Godlewski, spokesman for Teck Cominco American in Spokane.

The smelter is just a few miles north of the U.S. border in Trail, British Columbia, and any pollution would likely flow down the river into this country.

The Washington Department of Ecology has been sampling the river on the U.S. side, but doesn't have results back yet, spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said Tuesday.

"There are no restrictions (on the river) and we haven't found dead fish," Gilbert said.

The river is running so fast because of spring snowmelt that health effects of the spill were expected to be little or nothing, officials have said.

Teck Cominco said that during the spill, its sampling showed that lead levels in the river ranged from 0.8 to 29 parts per billion, below the provincial standard of 37.9. By Friday, lead concentration was 1 part per billion.

Teck Cominco blamed a failed heat exchanger in the lead refinery for dumping a solution containing lead and hydrofluoric acid into the river at about 5:30 p.m. on May 28.

Operations in part of the lead refinery were suspended for an hour to isolate the source of the spill and were restarted once it was deemed safe.

The spill lasted for about four hours. The Washington Ecology Department said it was told that approximately 2,100 pounds of lead and 100 gallons of acid were released into the river.

Teck Cominco and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting for years over who must pay to clean up millions of tons of 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 Teck Cominco of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said the company was responsible for cleaning up the river. Teck Cominco had argued that it's not subject to Superfund cleanup regulations.

In 2006, Teck Cominco reached a deal with EPA to spend $20 million to study the extent of the smelter pollution.

Related Sites:
Teck Cominco
State ecology department

Nicolas Geranios, Associated Press
Company: Columbia River Back to Pre-spill Lead Levels
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 2008

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