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Upper Columbia River Project

Upper Columbia River Project

Background

Teck American Incorporated, a U.S. subsidiary of Teck Resources Limited, is funding and conducting a comprehensive environmental assessment of the Upper Columbia River (UCR) area in northeastern Washington State under a unique voluntary settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Referred to as a remedial investigation & feasibility study, the Study is occurring under EPA regulations and oversight. 

The study area is located approximately 10 river miles below Teck’s Trail Operations smelter (Trail smelter), which has operated for over 100 years and currently refines zinc, lead, and a variety of precious and specialty metals.

This area encompasses much of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area recognized for abundant recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating, swimming, camping and hiking. 

The study is focused primarily on evaluating potential risks associated with historical discharges from the Trail smelter, and the impacts of other historical mining and smelting operations in northeastern Washington. Since the first outreach from EPA, Teck has been committed to addressing risks, if any, to human health or the environment that may be associated with Trail smelter’s historic operations. This is consistent with Teck’s overall values, and approach to social responsibility and performance.

Since the 1970s, Teck has invested over $1.5 billion to improve the environmental and operational performance of the smelter, and today it is a world-class facility supplying and recycling vital metals and critical minerals to Canada, the U.S. and world economies.

Banner photo credit: J. Foster Fanning.


Key Upper Columbia River Environmental Study Findings & Next Steps

Photo Credit: Catherine L. Brown

Over the last 15 years, Teck has invested over $130 million in EPA’s study of the Upper Columbia River, which is now well advanced, including sampling of water, fish, beaches, sediments, soils, and plants. 

Based on these and other relevant data and studies, in 2020, EPA completed its human health risk assessment (watch the presentation). A companion baseline ecological risk assessment is well underway. 

Key findings of the human health risk assessment are as follows:

  • The abundant game fish in the UCR are safe to eat, subject to mild state-wide and local-area advisories set by the Washington Department of Health.
    1. Washington State Department of Health fish advisories brochure
    2. Robust recreational fishery (source).
    3. Healthy choices include Northern Pike (an invasive species) and hatchery White Sturgeon (native species).
    4. Fish are an important part of a healthy diet (source).  
  • Surface water is safe for all manner of recreational activities. In fact, concentrations of metals are a fraction of allowed maximum contaminant levels for drinking water, though residents and recreators should not drink river water due to bacterial content (source).
  • The UCR’s numerous beaches are safe for recreation, except for Bossburg Flats beach, which has been closed to the public since 2012 due to impacts from a defunct non-Teck mining operation. The National Park Service owns and operates Bossburg and has not indicated whether or when it will address the beach. 
  • For aesthetic reasons, Teck replaced the “Black Sand Beach” under Ecology oversight in 2010, and it is open to the public (source).
  • Photo Credit: J. Foster Fanning

    At a small fraction of sampled upland residential properties, concentrations of lead in soils are above EPA’s current screening threshold for residential properties (400 ppm) and is a matter of ongoing assessment. Residents of such properties should follow Washington State Department of Health’s healthy soils guidelines.

The baseline ecological risk assessment, a companion to EPA’s human health risk assessment, is underway and is expected to be completed before the end of 2023.


Tribal Engagement

The Reservations of the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Spokane Tribe border the lower eastern and western portions of the study area, about 70 and 140 river miles below the international border, respectively. EPA commenced a preliminary assessment & site investigation of the area in 1999. This was completed by EPA in 2004 and resulted in the recommendation to move forward with the full remedial investigation & feasibility study that has been underway since 2005. 

Both the Colville Tribes and the Spokane Tribe are fully funded participants in the UCR RI/FS and have been since before EPA initiated the RI/FS in 2005. 

Significant and ongoing RI/FS tribal participation has included: 

  • Technical input and comment on the design, reporting and data analysis for each field study
  • Regular tribal consultation with EPA Region 10 leadership
  • Cultural resource consultation on all field sampling programs
  • A unique multi-year tribal resource use and consumption survey
  • Collaboration on an uplands plant sampling program, focused on plants of cultural significance
  • Participation in an ongoing Soil Amendment Technology Evaluation Study, including conducting annual vegetation monitoring.

Area Response Actions

Photo Credit: J. Foster Fanning

While the Upper Columbia River/Lake Roosevelt remedial investigation and feasibility study efforts have been ongoing, Teck has voluntarily undertaken several residential soils removal actions in 2015 and 2017-18.

Separately, EPA has undertaken several removal actions in the town of Northport, where the non-Teck Le Roi/Northport smelter was formerly located, in 2005, and again in 2020-2021. Additional residential soil sampling is contemplated in 2021 to determine whether more removal actions may be warranted. The Washington Department of Ecology has also proposed a remedial action at Northport Waterfront beach area.

Lake Roosevelt Forum provides regular updates on the study and other topics of interest to area residents.


Frequently Asked Questions

The RI/FS determines the type and extent of contamination at a site, assesses potential risks to human health or the environment, and determines what, if any, response actions may be warranted to mitigate identified risks. The study is complete once EPA issues a final record of decision (ROD) indicating the completion of any necessary response actions. At this time, it is anticipated that EPA will complete the ROD in 2025.

Northeastern Washington is a historic mining area, where several metals smelters, numerous mines, and mills once dotted the landscape. As a result, the focus of the study is on metals, such as copper, cadmium, lead, and zinc. Historically, at least two smelters discharged slag to the river, including the Trail smelter. Slag is a granulated by-product of the smelting process that does not present a human health risk. 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. Today, slag is repurposed to make cement and other industrial repurposing. Slag does not present a human health risk. A key question being studied in the Upper Columbia River RI/FS is the potential bioavailability of metals entrapped in the slag matrix resident in sediments to very small organisms that live in sediments, known as benthic macroinvertebrates.

Properties were sampled in 2014, 2015, and 2017. All sampled properties have received their results via U.S. mail. If your property is within the study area and you are unsure whether it has been sampled, you may contact EPA.

In 2004, two individual members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation filed suit against Teck Metals Ltd. alleging that the company was liable to them under the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. These individuals’ claims were ultimately dismissed. However, the lawsuit was joined by the Colville Tribes and the State of Washington in 2005, and has been ongoing since, notwithstanding Teck’s voluntary agreement with EPA to conduct the remedial investigation and feasibility study and the litigants’ funded participation in EPA’s process. Teck continues to pursue reasonable resolution of the plaintiffs’ outstanding claims for natural resource damages.

In 2012, four natural resource agencies formed a natural resource trustee counsel to assess natural resource damages at the Upper Columbia River site – the Colville Confederated Tribes, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The trustees issued an assessment plan in 2012. Teck has voluntarily funded certain assessment work by the trustees and continues to fund an ongoing engagement with the trustees pertaining to natural resource damages for the UCR Site, including seeking resolution of the civil natural resource damages claims filed by the Colville Tribes and the State of Washington. The outcome of a natural resource damages assessment process and settlement is typically an ecological restoration project or projects producing ecosystem services and/or human use benefits to benefit Site stakeholders.  Please check back for future updates on restoration and process timing as they become available.

  1. Teck has spent approximately $1.5 billion to modernize the Trail facility and improve its environmental performance since the late 1970s. 

  2. Discharges from the facility in Canada are significantly lower than the natural loads carried by the Columbia River.

  3. Water quality in the river consistently meets both Canadian and U.S. regulatory standards for metals concentrations

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
Teck

As one of Canada’s leading mining companies, Teck is committed to responsible mining and mineral development with major business units focused on copper, zinc, and steelmaking coal, as well as investments in energy assets.