Contaminants in Lake Roosevelt

More than forty million dollars has been spent over the past five years to investigate the nature, extent and possible human health and ecological risks of contaminants found in the upper Columbia River, which includes Lake Roosevelt. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to the investigation as the Upper Columbia River (UCR) Site.

As the history time line shows, the legacy of contaminants entering Lake Roosevelt dates back over a century. EPA has traced most of it to the Trail smelter, sited along the Columbia nine miles north of the U.S./Canadian border. Waste from the smelter carried metals and other contaminants downstream into Lake Roosevelt. EPA also identified, to a lesser degree, other mining, milling, smelting, and pulp industries as potential sources.

The original Trail smelter processed copper and gold. Teck bought the smelter in the early 1900s, and has processed other metals over the years. Current operations focus on smelting of zinc and lead for use in vehicles, batteries and numerous household products. EPA estimates that Teck discharged wastewater (liquid effluent) and up to 23 million tons of contaminated granulated fumed slag into the upper Columbia River.

In 1995 Teck ceased discharging granulated slag. In 1997 Teck implemented the Trail Modernization Program which, along with prior efforts, significantly improved the quality of wastewater being discharged into the river and the facility's overall environmental performance. Since the 1997 modernization, accidental spills of liquid effluent and slag have occurred. Continuing to improve performance is something Teck, Environment Canada and communities continue to address.

Assessing Human Health and Ecological Risks

United States Superfund law (technically called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA) guides the investigation and assessment for evaluating human health and ecological risks. Since 2006, Teck has funded this effort under an agreement with the United States Government.

EPA is overseeing Teck's efforts pursuant to its CERCLA authority, and Teck is required to perform the investigation that is consistent with CERCLA regulations. The assessment is called a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility
Study (RI/FS). The RI/FS will also evaluate potential cleanup actions and other remedies. Based on results of the RI/FS, EPA can direct site cleanup and compel responsible parties to fund these efforts.

Sites like the Upper Columbia (which stretches over 150 miles and has over 600 miles of shoreline) are called mega-sites because of their size and complexity. As a result, conducting an RI/FS can take several years. Lake Roosevelt is no exception.