Teck Metals to Plead Guilty
by Mark Hume
Teck Metals Ltd. is expected to be hit with substantial fines after the company admits in court next week to causing pollution in Trail, in southeast B.C.
The provincial court registry shows Teck, which operates the largest lead-zinc smelter in the world in the small town on the banks of the Columbia River, intends to plead guilty Monday to 15 charges.
The charges, which follow an investigation by Environment and Climate Change Canada, are for depositing deleterious substances and "introducing business related waste" into the environment. Copper and gold smelting has been a part of the community of about 7,000 people since 1896.
Two information documents filed in court by Darin Conroy, a federal enforcement officer, cites Teck Metals for violations of the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Management Act.
The documents state the company discharged copper, zinc and other caustic waste from a fertilizer plant and a metallurgical plant in incidents in 2013 and 2014.
There are no references to the fines Teck is expected to face, but in 2011 the company paid $325,000 for letting mercury leach into Stoney Creek, in Trail, and, in 2013, paid $210,000 for discharging sodium hydroxide into the Columbia River.
For corporations, fines for the types of offences Teck is facing range from $25,000 to $6-million. Courts typically assess repeat offenders higher in the range.
Chris Stannell, senior communications specialist with Teck, said the company could not comment until the legal proceedings conclude.
"I can clarify that these proceedings do not relate to the groundwater remediation plan which addresses issues associated with historical activities," he said in an e-mail.
Mr. Stannell said Teck is committed to continually improving its environmental performance in Trail.
"Over the last 20 years Teck has made significant investments to improve Trail's environmental performance, resulting in emissions of metal to air and water being reduced by over 95 per cent."
Environment and Climate Change Canada was unable to immediately respond to questions.
Teck Metals has been battling for years to contain pollution in Trail. Among the problems identified by the company in its remediation plans are contaminated landfills, slag deposits that leach into waterways, and a massive groundwater plume that has spread beneath Trail and the Columbia River.
Teck has been aware of the seriousness of environmental problems in Trail since at least 1975, when tests showed elevated lead counts in the blood of some local children. Since then, Teck has spent $1.5-billion on a modernization program to improve both operational and environmental performance, dramatically reducing air and groundwater emissions.
Despite those improvements, pollutants continue to to be a problem.
Teck is currently building a smelter-recycling facility that is expected to reduce dust emissions by 25 per cent. A new $125-million acid plant, constructed in 2014, reduces sulphur dioxide emissions by up to 15 per cent and a $36-million groundwater treatment plant will go into operation later this year.
On its website, Teck says the groundwater was polluted by "historical activities" that the company is trying to deal with.
Teck says the groundwater is not used for drinking by the community and tests have shown fish populations in the Columbia River aren't affected.
In 2012, a remediation plan for Teck drafted by Golder Associates Ltd. noted that an ammonium-sulphate groundwater plume was flowing from beneath the metallurgical and fertilizer operations out beneath the Columbia River, which flows south into the United States.
The report states, "the plume appears to be upwelling into the river" and it recommended construction of the groundwater treatment plant, which is expected to cost about $6-million a year to operate.
The report said remediation of Stoney Creek, polluted by contaminated fill, and the cleanup of multiple, historic slag heaps would cost more, but an estimate wasn't given.
Chronic pollution problems in Trail:
1) Contaminated fill was used in a highway bridge crossing over Stoney Creek.
2) Tests downstream found water is highly toxic.
3) Iron ore slag (now cleaned up) was dumped on the shore of the Columbia River.
4) Heavy metals, ammonia and sulphates have contaminated a massive groundwater plume.
5) Ammonia-contaminated groundwater percolates up into Indian Eddy.
6) The downstream edge of the contaminated plume flows back to the Columbia River below Trail.
7) Slag deposits on the river bank have elevated levels of heavy metals.
8) Teck Metals Ltd. is building a $36-million groundwater treatment plant with four wells to handle polluted water.
9) A fertilizer plant has left groundwater contaminated with ammonia.
10) Contaminated landfills line Haley Gulley.
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