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Smelter Waste Slag Contaminating Upper Columbia River Removed, Beach Rebuilt
Posted on Friday, November 05, 2010 (PST)

Contractors from Teck Metals Ltd. (formerly Teck Cominco) have finished removing black slag, a byproduct of the smelting process, from Black Sand Beach near Northport, Wash.


Teck’s smelter in Trail, British Columbia, discharged granulated slag to the Columbia River over nearly a 60-year period. A portion of the granulated slag accumulated at Black Sand Beach, an informal recreation site, three miles south of the Canadian border.


The Washington State Department of Ecology and Teck signed a voluntary agreement in July 2009 to remove the slag and rebuild the beach. The site encompasses about one acre of state trust land managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.


Teck assumed all engineering, construction, and oversight costs associated with this project as part of the agreement. The main goal of the project is to prevent further contamination of the upper Columbia River from slag that might erode or be deposited back into the river.


Teck agreed to remove the slag and transport it by truck for recycling at its smelter in Trail. The company hired a number of contractors from northeastern Washington for the work.


Slag is an industrial waste that contains hazardous substances including zinc, lead, copper, and other metals that cannot be removed by normal smelter processing. Certain metals in slag harm the health of the river and aquatic life. Removing slag protects the aquatic life and the health of the river.


Nearly 6,400 cubic yards or 9,100 tons of sediment containing slag were removed from the beach area. After the slag was removed, clean fill material including sand, gravel and cobbles was used to rebuild the beach. The access road used during construction was restored to look more like it did before the construction.


Under the terms of the voluntary agreement, Teck has agreed to monitor and report on any changes they may observe on the beach over the next five years.


“An important goal was to establish a replacement beach that looked similar to the original beach, minus the black slag,” said project manager Chuck Gruenenfelder with Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup office in Spokane. “The final design considered aesthetics and stability. This was a success because of active community input, good technical coordination and planning, and involvement of local contractors in the construction.”


The site retains much of its original character and is now healthier for people and the river, according to Gruenenfelder.


Local Northport companies performed about 50 percent of the project work, which provided a positive economic impact to the community.


The extent of contamination and associated human health and environmental risks posed by past discharges from Teck's Trail facility into the Upper Columbia River are currently being investigated under a separate, comprehensive multi-year study. That study is being led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Teck in coordination with state, tribal and federal authorities.


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