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Colville Tribes Win Long-Running Environmental Lawsuit against Teck Metals

Federal Court in Yakima Holds Canadian Company Liable for Decades of Contamination

NESPELEM, Wash., Dec. 14, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, a judge in the United States District Court in Yakima issued a ruling that Canadian mining and smelting giant Teck Metals, Ltd. is liable under United States environmental law for contaminating the Columbia River with millions of tons of smelting waste.

In finding Teck liable under the Comprehensive, Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund), the Honorable Judge Lonny R. Suko ruled that, "for decades Teck's leadership knew its slag and effluent flowed from Trail downstream and are now found in Lake Roosevelt, but nonetheless Teck continued discharging wastes into the Columbia River."  The court noted Teck's manager's recognition that it, "had been treating Lake Roosevelt as a 'free,' 'convenient' disposal facility for its wastes."  Given this conduct and connection with Washington, Judge Suko decided that Teck could be tried in Washington, even though its smelter is located in Canada. 

"We are very pleased with this outcome," said John Sirois, Chairman of the Colville Business Council. "Now that the Court has found that Teck is liable for its contamination of the Columbia River, we look forward to its participation in cleaning it up and paying for any resulting damages."

Included in the decision, the judge determined:

  • Between 1930 and 1995, Teck intentionally discharged at least 9.97 million tons of slag, including  heavy metals such as lead, zinc, mercury, cadmium, copper, and arsenic, directly into the Columbia river via outfalls at its Trail smelter.
  • Teck knew its disposal of hazardous waste into the Upper Columbia river was likely to cause harm, and was told by the Canadian government that its slag was toxic to fish and leached hazardous metals.
  • Pursuant to CERCLA, Teck is liable to the Tribes and the State in any subsequent action or actions to recover past or future response costs at the Upper Columbia river site.

The Court's finding that Teck is liable under CERCLA will give EPA the power to force Teck to fund necessary cleanup.  The Court's ruling will also make Teck liable for any natural resource damages resulting from its releases of hazardous substances to the environment in the Upper Columbia River. 

First filed in 2004, the lawsuit arose from Teck's refusal to comply with United States Superfund law to study the nature and extent of hazardous substances discharged by the mining company in and around Lake Roosevelt and the Upper Columbia River.  The smelter is located directly on the Columbia River just a few miles north of the United States border.  Teck's smelting wastes have been documented throughout the 150-mile reach of the Columbia River between the Canadian border and Grand Coulee Dam. 

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation joined the lawsuit in 2005.  For seven years, the Tribes, together with the State of Washington, litigated to obtain today's result – the determination that Teck is subject to United States environmental law and is obligated to investigate and cleanup contamination in the Upper Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt.  After vigorously contesting that its wastes ever deposited in the United States or released hazardous substances there, on the eve of trial Teck finally conceded that it dumped nearly 10 million tons of smelting waste into the Columbia River, some of which included hazardous substances that deposited in the United States, and that its wastes leached heavy metals into the environment of the United States.

"Today's court ruling has great meaning for our Tribes," said Sirois. "This river is the heart of our people.  It has always been and will always be our homeland, and damages to our natural resources must be addressed."

Together with other governmental entities, the Tribes and the State are actively planning scientific studies necessary to identify the extent of injury and resulting damage in the river, as well as in the upland areas.   Once these studies are complete, the Tribes and State will return for another trial to address the damages that have resulted from the decades of release of hazardous substances in the Upper Columbia River, Lake Roosevelt, and the upland region.

About Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

With more than 9,000 descendants of 12 aboriginal tribes of Indians enrolled, the Colville Tribes is a sovereign nation and federally-recognized Indian tribe. The existing Colville Reservation and former North Half of the Reservation are bounded by the Columbia River (including Lake Roosevelt) covering about 3 million acres located in north eastern and central Washington. This area is diverse with natural resources including standing timber, streams, rivers, lakes, minerals, varied terrain, native plants and wildlife.  The Columbia River has been the homeland of the Colville People for time immemorial.  The Colville tribal members use the Columbia River for sustenance, recreation, economic, and spiritual purposes.  It is an integral part of their culture and tribal identity. 

SOURCE Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

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