Vancouver-based Teck operates one of the biggest lead and zinc smelters in the world in Trail, British Columbia, near the Canada-US border and about 200 kilometres north of Spokane, Washington.
The Canadian Press reports, “Teck Resources is confirming that its smelter in Trail has spilled up to 25,000 litres (about 200 barrels) 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.”
The report adds, “B.C.-based Teck Resources 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 woman from Washington state says pollutants released into the water as recently as March, 2011, are to blame for her breast cancer and other health problems.”
In August 2012, CBC News reported, “A U.S. study has found an unusually high incidence of gastrointestinal disease in a small U.S. town located downstream from a Teck smelter in Trail. Northport, Wash., is a small community of 300 people, located 35 kilometres downstream from Teck’s Trail operations… Researchers at Harvard Medical School have now confirmed Northport residents have 10 to 15 times the normal rate of diseases such as colitis and Crohn’s disease, which have symptoms including abdominal pain and diarrhea. …Researchers are now seeking funding to establish whether environmental toxins are behind the high rate of Crohn’s disease and colitis.”