Tainted Columbia Worries the EPAby Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - November 20, 2002
Superfund listing could follow if more heavy metals are found
SPOKANE -- There should be more study of heavy metals in Lake Roosevelt and the upper Columbia River before any decisions are made on a Superfund listing, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
High levels of zinc, cadmium and copper detected in shallow lake sediments and river shores between Inchelium and the Canadian border showed the need for a study, the EPA said.
Based on data from 58 sediment samples, the upper Columbia site already qualifies for Superfund listing, said Monica Tonel, site assessment manager for the EPA.
The highest pollution levels were found near the border.
Most worrisome were zinc levels 60 times what's considered safe for aquatic life and fish.
"The lake is not a human health risk, and that is good news. But it is an ecological concern," EPA engineer Cami Grandinetti said.
Grandinetti cautioned that the data collected in a $350,000 EPA study are sparse. The 58 samples tested -- one sample per mile -- aren't enough to make conclusions about the entire lake, she said.
"The numbers are elevated enough that we really need to look further at what critters are being affected," she said. Other studies have pointed to pollution hazards in the lake, a 130-mile reservoir of the Columbia River behind Grand Coulee Dam.
A 1994 U.S. Geological Survey study found dioxins and furans in sport fish, and a 2001 state Department of Ecology study found high metals concentrations in lake sediments.
A mid-1990s health advisory told people to limit consumption of fish from the lake because of concerns over mercury.
Two years ago, that advice was revised to say that declining mercury levels in fish no longer posed a health risk.
The EPA considers Teck Cominco's lead and zinc smelter in Trail, B.C., and the Celgar Pulp Mill in Castlegar, B.C., major sources of pollution.
The Cominco smelter recently has made environmental improvements that have significantly cut emissions of mercury and heavy metals.
Other potential sources of heavy metals include mines in Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties and a lead smelter at Northport, which shut down in 1922.
The EPA and Washington state officials will decide next year whether to recommend a Superfund designation, said Dave Croxton, EPA's site cleanup manager in Seattle.
Other alternatives include an agreement with some of the polluters to pay for the cleanup themselves, or perform a cleanup directed by the state Department of Ecology.
Lawyers for EPA are reviewing whether the agency has the legal clout to go after Canadian polluters, Croxton said.
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