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