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SPOKANE, Wash. -- Most of the lead, cadmium and other heavy
metals pollution sampled from Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind
the Grand Coulee Dam, came from a smelter in British Columbia,
according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
testing international law by demanding that Teck Cominco Ltd., based
in Vancouver, British Columbia, pay to clean up decades of pollution
on the U.S. side of the border.
Teck Cominco has refused to submit to EPA authority, saying the
agency has no power over a Canadian company operating in Canada. The
company's lead and zinc smelter is located about 10 miles north of
border along the Columbia River.
The State Department has initiated talks with Canadian officials,
hoping to settle the dispute.
Most of the dumping stopped in the mid-1990s. Teck Cominco has
questioned whether its smelter is responsible for heavy metals
pollution in Lake Roosevelt.
USGS study results "indicate that the liquid effluent from the
Teck Cominco smelter is the primary contributor of the large
concentrations found in sediment samples from the middle and lower
reaches of Lake Roosevelt," said Stephen Cox, lead author of the
Dave Godlewski, a spokesman for Teck Cominco in Spokane, said that
while the metals pollution can impact animals and micro-organisms,
the concentrations are not high enough to endanger human health.
"I think it important to distinguish these two very different
types of standards given the high degree of concern that such reports
have on the people who live near the lake," Godlewski said.
Teck Cominco is continuing its offer to spend $13 million to study
the pollution, and hopes to reach an agreement with U.S. regulators,
he said. The EPA has rejected the offer, saying it does not meet U.S.
The USGS study was conducted in partnership with the Confederated
Tribes of the Colville Reservation, some of whose members are suing
Teck Cominco to force the cleanup.
The study shows pollution of the lake exceeds tribal standards for
cleanup, the tribes said in a news release. It also shows that
particles of slag, a byproduct of the smelter process, were breaking
down and not inert, the release said.
Elevated concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead,
mercury, and zinc were found throughout much of the sediment. All
samples exceeded tribal sediment-quality standards for cadmium, lead,
and zinc. More than 70 percent of the samples exceeded the standards
for mercury, arsenic, and copper.
The EPA has ordered the Canadian company to start paying for
studies and an eventual cleanup of millions of tons of slag and heavy
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