Miner Teck probes mercury spill in Columbia River

Fri Oct 8, 2010 6:09pm EDT
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Teck Resources Ltd said on Friday it was trying to determine how much mercury has spilled from its Trail, British Columbia, lead smelter into the Columbia River near the border of Washington state.

The mercury was discharged on Thursday during a reconfiguration of pipes at the facility's waste-treatment plant. The work has since been completed and the leak stopped, the company said.

The mining company said it does not know how much mercury was spilled, but believes the amount exceeded permitted levels.

"An investigation is underway to confirm the cause of the incident, the amount of mercury discharged, and the potential impact on the Columbia River," Teck said in a news release.

The century-old Teck facility was the focus of a legal battle recently, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency went to court to try to make Teck pay for the cost of cleaning up sections of the Columbia.

The U.S. courts ruled that even though the pollution occurred in Canada, it was subject to U.S. Superfund laws aimed at cleaning up past contamination. Researchers are now probing whether the old slag from the smelter can, in fact, be cleaned up without doing more harm to the environment, or whether it is doing any harm to the environment.

Teck will fund an environmental and health study of decades of slag discharges from the Canadian smelter that were carried by the river into Lake Roosevelt in Washington state. The study will be overseen by the U.S. EPA.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Peter Galloway)