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Upper Columbia River Project

The Background
The metallurgical complex at Trail, British Columbia, has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States (U.S.) border. Since the late 1970s, Teck has invested approximately $1.5 billion to improve the operation’s environmental performance. Today, its modern environmental protection measures make it a world-class metallurgical facility, supplying vital metals to Canada, the U.S. and world economies.

  • Environmental improvements include new technology for lead smelting
  • Permitted discharge of granulated slag into the Columbia River ceased in 1995
  • Present permitted discharges from the facility are lower than natural metal loads carried by the river
  • Water quality in the Columbia River at the international border meets or exceeds stringent regulatory levels in either B.C. or the U.S.

EPA Settlement Agreement

On June 2, 2006, Teck signed a Settlement Agreement with the U.S. EPA:

  • Under the agreement, Teck is voluntarily funding and conducting a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS), the purpose of which is to:
    • Evaluate the nature and the extent of contamination;
    • Determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of any contamination;
    • Determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk;
    • In the event that action is required, determine what action is most appropriate.Provide over $1-million per year to the Colville and Spokane Tribes, Washington State and the Department of the Interior to provide for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.
  • The agreement replaces the EPA’s Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) under CERCLA with a collaborative and cooperative contractual agreement.
  • 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.

Next Steps

Presently, Teck is continuing the implementation of the 2006 EPA Agreement, and is working with the EPA and all other stakeholders in this regard. Teck remains fully committed to complete the studies required to fully assess risks due to contaminants and, if necessary, remedy the effect of its past practices on the Upper Columbia River.

For updates and further information on the Upper Columbia River Project, funded by Teck, please visit http://www.ucr-rifs.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

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.

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.

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.

The study being funded by Teck is the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS). The study 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.

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.

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.

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.

Negotiations and Litigation

In its efforts to resolve issues surrounding Lake Roosevelt, Teck has been involved in a series of negotiations and legal matters over the past decade. At issue is whether U.S. Environmental Law should apply to Teck, a Canadian company operating under Canadian permits.

Below is a timeline that describes events leading up to the present:

In January 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Teck’s petition for a review of the 9th Circuit decision. The denial of review was not based on the merits of Teck’s defence, but simply reflects the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case at this time.

On September 10, 2012, Teck was pleased to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs that will 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 complete. That study is currently expected to be completed in 2017.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington State petitioned the EPA to have Lake Roosevelt listed as a “Superfund” site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The EPA responded by conducting a series of investigations which indicated that metal levels in some areas were elevated, and that Teck’s Trail Operation was a likely source. No assessment of human or ecological health was conducted in these studies.

In early 2003, Teck contacted the EPA and held a series of joint technical meetings to determine the best course of action in response to public concerns over the health of Lake Roosevelt. The result of these discussions was a study-program designed to meet all of the EPA’s technical requirements as specified under U.S. law.


Teck offered the EPA a legally enforceable and cooperative agreement which committed the company to fund human health and ecological studies (under direct EPA supervision) estimated to cost up to U.S. $13 million  

  • Teck also agreed to voluntarily fund and conduct any restorative measures attributable to the company's past operations
  • In November 2003, the EPA rejected the offer and terminated negotiations, insisting that Teck sign an agreement under CERCLA
  • In December 2003, the EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to Teck. The UAO ordered Teck to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study under CERCLA or face the threat of substantial fines and penalties

On June 2, 2006, a Settlement Agreement [Link to 2006-Operations-Settlement Agreement-T1.8.4.pdf] between the EPA and Teck was signed. As part of the Agreement, Teck agreed to voluntarily carry out a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS).

  • Under the Agreement, Teck is to prepay, on an annual basis, the EPA’s estimated future RI/FS costs for the succeeding fiscal year, and also to reimburse the EPA for RI/FS costs in excess of the annual prepayment
  • In addition, Teck has placed U.S. $20 million in escrow as financial assurance of its obligations under the Agreement
  • Of note is the fact that the EPA agreed to withdraw its UAO concurrent with the signing of the Agreement

On July 21, 2004, an enforcement proceeding was commenced by two citizens of Washington State and members of the Colville Tribe in U.S. federal court. The suit sought to enforce the EPA’s UAO and compel Teck to submit to the U.S. Superfund process.

 

  • Teck immediately sought to have all claims dismissed on the basis that U.S. environmental law was not intended to govern the discharges of a facility operating entirely in Canada according to Canadian and Provincial permits    
  • The motion to dismiss proceeded through the U.S. Federal District Court and the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, both of which denied Teck's pleas
  • The 9th Circuit decision was stayed pending an appeal by Teck to the U.S. Supreme Court

Trail Operations

P.O. Box 1000, 25 Aldridge Avenue
Trail, B.C. Canada V1R 4L8
t: 250.364.4222
f: 250.364.4109

Environment & Community Feedback Line 
t: 250.364.4817

View All Contacts

Trail Operations

P.O. Box 1000, 25 Aldridge Avenue
Trail, B.C. Canada V1R 4L8
t: 250.364.4222
f: 250.364.4109

Environment & Community Feedback Line 
t: 250.364.4817

View All Contacts
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