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Another Spill at Teck Comino

by Chris Cowbrough, S-E Editor
The Statesman Examiner, June 4, 2008

Columbia River monitored after acid spill at Trail, B.C. plant

The massive Teck Cominco smelter in Trail, B.C. reportedly spilled upwards of 100 gallons of hydrofluoric acid and 2,100 pounds of lead into the Columbia River late last Wednesday afternoon.

Teck Cominco officials said that between 5 and 5:30 p.m. on May 28, a heat exchanger in the lead refinery of the Trail Operations failed, allowing electrolyte, an acidic solution containing lead, to "get into the Columbia River through an industrial outlet."

Teck Cominco said they are investigating the incident. Downriver, Washington state officials are monitoring the lead and acid spill and any possible effects to the environment and water quality.

The spill from a leak in a lead refinery pipe reportedly continued until about 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

According to officials with the British Columbia government, the chemically contaminated water traveled into a storm sewer and then into the Columbia River.

According to Richard Deane, Manager, Energy and Public Affairs for Teck Cominco, "the plant's environmental monitoring system detected the problem, environmental control procedures were immediately activated and the lead refinery was temporarily shut down to prevent further release of the solution."

DOE notified later

Deane said that Trail Operations immediately notified the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP), the Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada and will continue to cooperate fully with all regulatory agencies to manage the incident.

The Washington Department of Ecology was notified of the spill shortly after midnight.

Teck Cominco officials said that the Columbia River, which is free flowing at Trail, likely diluted the toxic solution enough so it posed no health issues to Canadian and U.S. residents living downriver.

The latest incident drew the ire of Department of Ecology officials.

"Historically, Washington's environment has paid the price for pollution released from this facility," Washington Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning said last week in a statement.

"We will do what we can to minimize the spill's impact in Washington to protect Lake Roosevelt and the people who live in the area."

Officials feel that it's unlikely any groundwater wells would be affected because the spill was diluted in the river's spring high flow, fast-running conditions.

The plant was operating again on Thursday.

David Godlewski, TEck Cominco American's manager of environmental and public affairs (Spokane), said the company is assessing its ability to respond to such incidents.

"We are taking this very seriously and are conducting a full investigation," Godlewski said. "We are looking at how we can improve our response."

From an historical perspective, Teck Cominco and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been battling for years over who should pay to clean up millions of tons of heavy metals and mercury released into the Columbia River during a century-plus of smelter operations.

Cross-border battle

The case has international ramifications and repercussions. The U.S. government has contended that its laws apply to a Canadian company that operates in Canada beause the pollution flowed across the border.

The Vancouver, B.C.-based Teck Cominco has taken a different stance.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court 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 Columbia River.

Teck Cominco has argued that it is not subject to Superfund clean-up regulations.

Related Sites:
Teck Cominco
State ecology department

Chris Cowbrough, S-E Editor
Another Spill at Teck Comino
The Statesman Examiner, June 4, 2008

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