Nearly 20 years ago a Colvile tribal member approached our environmental group, Citizens for a Clean Columbia, to become involved in their lawsuit to have the Upper Columbia and lake Roosevelt be designated a Superfund site because of nearly 100 years of slag, refuse from the smelting process, being dumped into the Columbia River. As the smelter is in British Columbia, it would be a unique attempt to impose environmental laws on a Canadian smelter. Since then not only have we had to fight the smelter, but local politicians on our side who were accepting ‘donations’ from the smelter to support their case. 20 years later, Supreme Court decisions and so many studies to quantify the extent of the contamination, we have had a few victories.
Teck, the smelter, has discontinued their dumping, several properties have been cleaned of toxic levels of lead and zinc and close to my home, Black Sand Beach, which was actually slag, has been cleaned and the slag replaced with real sand.
We still have major issues here. A cluster of Crohn’s disease is currently being studied for links to the smelter and the tribes are still battling the smelter for losses to the river which historically been their main source of sustenance from the fishery. It’s been a long fight, but we have a dedicated group of people who will continue the fight and probably pass it on to their children to continue.