Wednesday, May 22, 2024

EPA proposes adding the Upper Columbia River to Superfund List


SEATTLE – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it is proposing to add the Upper Columbia River Site in northeast Washington to the National Priorities List, the list of hazardous waste sites in the United States eligible for cleanup financed under the federal Superfund Program.

“Today’s action builds on decades of efforts to clean up the river and protect the health of people who live, work, and recreate in and near the Upper Columbia,” said EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “Listing this site on the National Priorities List unlocks the full suite of tools and resources of EPA’s Superfund program to address this complex site and take additional steps to protect young children from harmful levels of lead.”

The agency has determined that soils contaminated with lead and arsenic pose unacceptable risk to residents at affected properties, particularly to children. EPA determined that soil in at least 194 residential areas contain lead at levels that exceed the agency’s new screening level for residential lead contamination.

The primary source of contamination at the site is the Teck Metals Ltd. smelting facility in Trail, British Columbia, approximately 10 river miles upstream of the international boundary. The former Le Roi smelter in Northport, Washington also contributed contamination.

In November 2023 letters to Washington Governor Inslee, Chairman Jarred-Michael Erickson of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Chairman Gregory Abrahamson of the Spokane Tribal Business Council, EPA requested concurrence with its plans to propose listing the site on the NPL. EPA received responses from the Governor and the two Tribes concurring with EPA's assessment that the NPL is the best way to ensure cleanup of lead and other metals that pose risks to people and the environment in the study area.

Governor Inslee responded, “The legacy of contamination and risks to human health and the environment justify adding the site to the National Priorities List. It is time to turn needed attention to clean up the Upper Columbia River Site for all who depend on it as a treasured natural and cultural resource.”

“Historical disposal and discharges of wastes and emissions from smelter operations have contaminated the UCR Site and pose a risk to human health as well as to the sovereignty and economic security of the Colville Tribes,” said Jarred-Michael Erickson, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. “An NPL listing will allow access to resources that are much needed for remediation of the UCR Site.”

“The Tribe supports EPA acting now to propose placing the Site on the NPL,” said Gregory Abrahamson, Chairman of the Spokane Tribal Business Council. “Once listed, EPA will have access to the Superfund to timely proceed with remedial actions.”

In 2006 EPA and Teck Metals Ltd. entered into a Settlement Agreement along with Teck American Inc. and U.S. Department of Justice, to complete studies that establish the nature and extent of contamination. These ongoing studies include human health and ecological risk assessments. The Human Health Risk Assessment was completed in 2021, showing unacceptable risks to people’s health caused primarily by lead and other metals to a lesser extent. The ecological risk assessments are underway.

The enforceable agreement does not require Teck to complete a comprehensive cleanup of the site. Listing the site on the NPL allows EPA to access Superfund dollars for cleanup activities which can also help ensure a more timely cleanup.  

Public comment period and next steps

The proposal announced today will be published in the federal register and a 60-day public comment period will follow from March 7 – May 6, 2024.

For more information on this site, the Federal Register notice, and how to submit comments, visit the EPA website on Current NPL Updates: New Proposed NPL Sites and New NPL Sites.

For information on Upper Columbia River site background and ongoing studies visit the Upper Columbia River Study Area website.

Upon completion of the comment period and review of the public comments, EPA will determine whether to officially list the site to the NPL. A final decision could come as early as September 2024.


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