Blame Canada: Shell out for river cleanup

A Canadian smelter has dumped slag into the Columbia River for more than 100 years.

Hey, British Columbia: Quit dumping crap into our river. Or at the very least, help us clean it up.

OK, not all of British Columbia is to blame. But a Canadian smelting plant in Trail, B.C., 13 miles from the U.S. border, has been dumping slag – a grainy smelting byproduct containing lead, zinc, copper, mercury, arsenic and other dangerous metals – into Washington’s Columbia River for more than 100 years. Its parent company, Teck Cominco, is refusing to comply with Environmental Protection Agency demands that it perform a study to determine what health hazards the slag poses to the area and find out what cleanup options exist.

The bottom line is that Teck Cominco must take responsibility for its actions. But if it refuses, the Canadian government must step in. The Trail smelter dispute began in the 1920s, when Columbia River-area farmers in Washington complained their crops were affected by the plant. A tribunal awarded the United States more than $400,000 in damages and decided that, under international law, no country can allow activity within its borders that causes serious damage to another nation. This decision alone is enough to place responsibility on Canada’s government, but it should not have come to this.

Our usually amenable neighbor responded to the EPA by issuing a formal diplomatic letter, citing concerns about “transboundary environmental liability cases” for both countries. But this liability is needed – countries need to take responsibility for negative impacts they have on other countries.

Teck Cominco is knowingly polluting U.S. soil. Local American Indian tribes and tourists at Lake Roosevelt – a part of the Columbia used for boating, fishing and camping – are concerned the area is not safe, and fear the pollution will affect the area’s long-term tourism-based economy.

If the case ends up in international court again, Teck Cominco and Canada must be held responsible for its unacceptable pollution of U.S. land – just as any country would expect of a courteous neighbor.