Teck fined $1.6 million for acid spill into Columbia River at Trail smelter operations

Trail Operations is one of the world’s largest fully integrated zinc and lead smelting and refining complexes. (Image courtesy of Teck Resources.)

Vancouver-based Teck Resources was ordered January 10 to pay C$2.2 million ($1.65m) for an acid spill into the Columbia River at the company’s Trail smelter operations.

A Rossland provincial court judge made the order after the company pleaded guilty to two charges laid under the federal Fisheries Act and one charge laid under the provincial Environmental Management Act. The charges resulted from an effluent release in February 2019.

Teck employees reported a spill of low pH effluent to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECC) and Emergency Management BC.

ECCC enforcement officers investigated and determined the discharge of approximately 2.5 million litres of effluent into the river just north of the US border resulted from numerous operational errors.

The river contains mountain whitefish, rainbow trout, walleye, brook trout, bull trout, cutthroat trout, white sturgeon, sculpin, redside shiner, and other fish species.

An ECCC news release said the company’s failure to exert due diligence contributed to the duration and extent of the spill.

The investigation found the effluent was caused by a leak of an acidic solution from the company’s fertilizer operations in Warfield, BC, just above the Trail metals smelter.

Much of the discharged effluent was below pH 4, which is deleterious, or harmful to fish.

The C$2 million federal fine will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.

The remaining C$200,000 is a provincial fine for Teck under the Environmental Management Act for failing to comply with their permit, which specifies acceptable pH levels for discharges and prohibits acutely lethal effluent discharges.

The company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry, which lists information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.

In 2021, the company’s Teck Coal Ltd. subsidiary was fined a record C$60 million for discharges from its East Kootenay coal operations into the Fording River and a pond.

(This article first appeared in Business in Vancouver)