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Teck zinc discharge into Columbia prompts shutdown

Discharging higher than permitted levels of zinc into the Columbia River had Teck Trail Operations temporarily grinding to a halt last week.

Zinc effluent, released through a river outfall point, measured up to 40 per cent higher in concentrate than the plant’s allowable daily limit.

Teck reported initial sampling indicated 250 kilograms (kg) of the heavy metal was detected compared to the permitted daily limit of 175 kg.

Water containing zinc dust overflowed into a drain Dec. 22, leading to the increase of zinc discharge into the river, confirmed Carol Vanelli Worosz, Teck’s community engagement coordinator.

The plant’s monitoring system detected the incident and operations were immediately shutdown to correct the source before restarting on Dec. 23, said Vanelli Worosz.

“While the cause was corrected in about 30 minutes the plants didn’t restart until the following day,” she explained. “We waited for confirmation from our monitoring that the incident had been completely addressed.”

The release didn’t create any health or safety risk to people, fish or wildlife, continued Vanelli Worosz, other than potential short-term impacts on aquatic life at the outfall point.

“We take the incident very seriously and are conducting a full investigation,” she said. “Which will include a third-party environmental impact assessment to determine what, if any, impact occurred to the river.”

The incident was reported to the Provincial Emergency Program, that in turn notified the BC Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Environment Canada.

When environmental emergency response officers receive notice of a spill, action will be taken based on the determined level of risk posed by the spill, explained Kimberley Franklin, from MOE communications and public engagement.

"In this case Teck Metals reported the incident as required," she said. "And regional operations staff are following up on the incident with Teck Metals personnel."

Heavy metals are natural components of the earth’s crust but can be dangerous because they cannot be degraded or destroyed and over time bio-accumulate in living organisms.

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