Upper Columbia River Project Q&A

What is slag?

Slag is a granulated by-product of the smelting process. It is a glass-like compound consisting primarily of silica, calcium and iron, and which contains small amounts of base metals including zinc, lead, copper and cadmium.

Is slag toxic?

Slag is not characterized as Hazardous Waste by either the U.S. or Canada. No study of which Teck is aware has identified unacceptable risks resulting from the presence of granulated slag in the Columbia River. Teck now sells granulated slag (ferrous granules) to the cement industry.

What is the EPA?

The EPA is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an American public body mandated to protect human health and the environment. The EPA leads U.S. environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts, and is also responsible for the development and enforcement of environmental regulations.

What is CERCLA?

CERCLA is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. It was enacted in 1980 to address abandoned hazardous waste sites in the U.S. Under CERCLA, the EPA has power to require responsible parties to address past disposal of hazardous materials under the threat of fines and penalties.

In 2003, the EPA sought to enforce Teck under a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study under CERCLA.

What does the 2006 agreement between the EPA and Teck mean?

The June 2, 2006, Settlement Agreement between Teck and the EPA means that Teck will voluntarily carry out Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Studies (RI/FS) of the Upper Columbia River. In addition to paying for all the required studies, Teck has also placed US $20-million in escrow as an assurance of its obligations under the Agreement.

What does the agreement that Teck has reached with the plaintiffs in the Pakootas et all v. Teck Metals Ltd. ("TML") mean?

On September 10, 2012, TML was pleased to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs that will largely avoid the need for a costly trial over technical issues. Despite the agreement, important scientific issues, as well as jurisdictional and other legal issues relating to the case remain to be resolved. The agreement stipulates that some portion of the slag discharged from Teck’s Trail Operations into the Columbia River between 1896 and 1995, and some portion of the effluent discharged from Trail Operations, have been transported to and are present in the Upper Columbia in the United States, and that some hazardous substances from the slag and effluent have been released into the environment within the United States. 

The subsequent hearing, with respect to claims for natural resource damages and costs, is expected to be deferred until the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Studies (RI/FS) are substantially complete. That study is currently expected to be completed in 2015. 

What kind of studies are being funded by Teck?

The studies being funded by Teck are Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Studies (RI/FS). They will deliver on Teck’s long-standing commitment to study and, if necessary, remedy the effect of past practices, while also defining any human health and ecological risks associated with them. To date, the studies in the Upper Columbia River, have generally shown that the water in the river system meets applicable water quality standards in both Canada and the United States, that the beaches are safe for recreational activities, and that the fish in the river system are as safe or safer to eat than fish in other water bodies in Washington State.

What steps is Teck taking to reduce their environmental impact?

The Company has spent approximately $1.5 billion to modernize the Trail facility and improve its environmental performance since the late 1970’s. Discharges from the facility are much lower than the natural metals loads carried by the Columbia River, and recent data from U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies demonstrate that water quality in the river consistently meets the regulatory standards set by both nations.

Additionally, the Trail facility now recovers as much as 25,000 tonnes of lead from battery scrap annually. In 2006, Trail expanded its recycling business to recover metals and materials from electronic waste, also known as e-scrap. Eventually, Trail expects to handle up to 20,000 tonnes of e-scrap, material that would otherwise go to landfills in western Canada and the United States.