TRAIL, B.C.—Teck Resources is confirming that its smelter in Trail has spilled up to 25,000 litres of a chemical solution into the Columbia River.
Spokesman Richard Deane says the solution likely contained sodium hydroxide which the plant uses to de-mineralize feed water for the smelter’s boilers.
Sodium hydroxide is in an industrial cleaning agent also known as lye or caustic soda and can cause severe skin burns and eye damage.
Deane says the solution was accidentally drained to a domestic sewage plant leading to the river instead of getting treated.
The spill comes less than two weeks after Teck was for the second consecutive year named one of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations for 2014 by media and investment research company Corporate Knights.
But despite the recognition, Teck’s history has been blighted with spills in the very same river, and the resulting legal consequences.
The company is currently is facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States on allegations unrelated to this spill that its smelter in Trail has polluted the Columbia River.
A Washington state judge has ruled that Teck is liable for the costs of cleaning up contamination in the Columbia River south of the border from decades of dumping slag and effluent from the company’s Trail operations.
A woman from Washington state says pollutants released into the water as recently as March 2011—a sill for which tech was levied $210,000 in fines by a B.C. court—are to blame for her breast cancer and other health problems.
In July 2013, Teck Resources president and chief executive Donald Lindsay announced the company was ramping up its cost-cutting efforts due to plunging commodity prices effecting most of its products.
In October 2013 the company reported dramatically reduced profits, with Lindsay declaring the company was focused is on a $330-million cost savings which reduced spending on sustaining capital.
Teck is also being blamed for heavy metals pollution along undeveloped regions of Lake Roosevelt near the Canadian border.
Studies by the Washington Department of Ecology found elevated levels of heavy metals in surface soils, wetlands and lake sediments in undeveloped areas near the town of Northport. Much of the pollution is a fine black sand known as slag that washed downstream onto beaches at the lake where people camp and swim.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a decade ago to assess contamination in the reservoir. In 2003, the EPA decided Teck was subject to the U.S. Superfund law, demanded the company pay for studies to determine the extent of the pollution, and clean it up.
Teck objected and the tribes sued in 2004 to force the company to comply. The state then joined the case.
However, Teck did agree in 2006 to perform a major study of pollution in the lake, under the direction of the EPA. The company has spent more than $55 million on the study, scheduled for completion in 2015.
This story was developed with additional files from Canadian Press reporters Alexandra Posadzki and Nicholas K. Geranios