Teck Liable in Upper Columbia River Litigation

The U.S. Federal District Court for Eastern Washington ruled in mid-December 2012 that Teck Metals, Ltd. is liable under U.S. environmental law for contaminating the Columbia river with millions of tons of waste discharged by the Trail, British Columbia zinc-lead smelter during the period from 1930 to 1995. The smelter is located on the Columbia River 10 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border.

The Trail smelter stopped discharging granulated slag into the Columbia River in 1995. Teck reports that metal loads in cur-rent discharges from the facility are lower than natural metal loads carried by the river and that water quality in the Columbia river at the international border meets or exceeds stringent regulatory levels in both the United States and Canada.

The Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada, which changed its name to Cominco in 1966, owned and operated the Trail smelter during the peri-od in question. Teck acquired a 100% interest in Cominco in 2001. In finding Teck liable under the Comprehensive, Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund), the court ruled that for decades the smelter operators treated Lake Roosevelt in Washington state as a free, convenient waste disposal facility.

The court issued a declaratory judg-ment that Teck is liable under CERCLA for response costs, the amount of which will be determined in the subsequent phase of the case. The subsequent hearing, with respect to claims for natural resource dam-ages and costs, has not been scheduled and is expected to be deferred until a remedial investigation and feasibility study with respect to environmental conditions in the upper Columbia river is substantially complete. That study, being undertaken by Teck American Inc. (TAI) pursuant to a 2006 agreement with the U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency, is currently expected to be completed in 2015.

Responding to the court ruling, Teck issued a statement that said, “TAI contin-ues to work the with the U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency, the state of Washington, local tribes, and others on studies in the upper Columbia river, which to date have generally shown that the water in the river system meets appli-cable water quality standards in both Canada and the United States, that the beaches are safe for recreational activi-ties, and the fish in the river system are as safe or safer to eat than fish in other water bodies in Washington state. TAI has commissioned a study by experts in natu-ral resource damage assessment and on the basis of that study it estimates that the compensable value of any damage will not be material.”

However, the company said, there can be no assurance that Teck or its affiliates will not be faced with further liability. If remediation is required and damage to resources is found, the cost of remediation may be material.

As featured in Womp 2013 Vol 01 - www.womp-int.com