EPA gives Cominco deadline for river plan - Company blamed for most pollution in Columbia

Associated Press
The Spokesman-Review


KETTLE FALLS, Wash. _ American environmental officials have told owners of a Canadian smelter that they have eight months to create a plan to study the plant's pollution into the Columbia River.

If Teck Cominco falls short, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is prepared to register a 130-mile stretch of the river as a Superfund site. That stretch, which includes Lake Roosevelt, runs from the U.S.-Canadian border to Grand Coulee Dam.

The comments came after two days of talks with the company, The Seattle Times reported Wednesday.

The EPA contends Teck Cominco is responsible for much of the river's worst pollution because for a century, from 1894 to 1994, it dumped about 400 tons of smelter slag daily into the river.

The EPA and Teck Cominco have been at odds for months over who will conduct the health studies.

Earlier studies show the Teck Cominco slag contains mercury, lead, arsenic and other metals that can be dangerous to human health.

Teck Cominco has been willing to pay for health and ecological studies, but does not want to be the only company on the river facing years of study and cleanup costs, which could total millions of dollars. Other companies undoubtedly contributed to the pollution, the company has said.

The EPA this week said it is willing to consider other sources of contamination.

"We think the meetings produced a groundwork for a plan," said Teck Cominco spokesman Dave Godlewski.

Teck Cominco also contended an annual drawdown of Lake Roosevelt to generate electricity at Grand Coulee Dam created environmental problems more serious than the slag. Most fish, the company said, don't take well to drastic changes in river flow.

The EPA agreed to consider other impacts on the environment before creating any cleanup plan for the river.

"What we're saying is that in our studies of the effects of slag on the river, we'll isolate out the effects of the drawdown, fish harvesting and other issues related to the ecosystem," said Tom Eaton, deputy director for the EPA's Pacific Northwest environmental cleanup program.

While the EPA could force Teck Cominco to study the impacts and pay for any cleanup under its Superfund program, it prefers that Teck Cominco come forward on its own, federal officials said.


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