SPOKANE — State regulators have released two studies that confirm heavy metals pollution along undeveloped regions of Lake Roosevelt near the Canadian border.
The studies released this week by the Washington Department of Ecology found elevated levels of heavy metals in surface soils, wetlands and lake sediments in undeveloped areas near the town of Northport.
The metals originated from past operations of a huge smelter near the border in Trail, British Columbia.
“What’s significant is we have far more information than before on metals in undeveloped, forested land,” said Brook Beeler, a spokeswoman for Ecology in Spokane, on Thursday.
As a result of the findings, the Ecology Department wants the federal government to speed up a “targeted study between Northport and the border,” Beeler said, focusing on residential and farm lands, and public access areas.
Lake Roosevelt is the 150-mile reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.
One study evaluated surface soils in timberland within two miles of the U.S.-Canadian border in the fall of 2012. More than 120 soil samples were tested for various metals, including lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium, mercury and others. The second study looked at metals concentrations in sediments at 10 lakes and wetlands.
The studies confirmed elevated levels of metals and also concluded the metals came mostly from past smelter emissions in Trail, Ecology said.
People living or recreating in the Northport area should take some extra precautions, such as washing toys and clothing after playing on soil; washing hands and face after working or playing outside; and mopping, dusting and vacuuming often, Ecology said.
Efforts to clean up Lake Roosevelt from smelter pollution have been in the works for years.
A federal judge last year ruled that his court has jurisdiction to apply the U.S. Superfund law to the Canadian company that acknowledges polluting Lake Roosevelt.
U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko, of Yakima, ruled against Teck Metals Ltd., of Vancouver, British Columbia, in a long-running case involving pollution of the lake in northeastern Washington. Cleanup has been estimated to cost up to $1 billion.
Teck Metals operates the giant lead and zinc smelter in Trail, about 10 miles from the U.S. border.
The company has acknowledged that pollution from that smelter traveled down the Columbia River into Lake Roosevelt between 1896 and 1995. But it has said that as a company operating in Canada, it is not subject to U.S. environmental laws and cannot be ordered to pay for cleanup.
Much of the pollution is a fine black sand known as slag that washed downstream onto beaches at the lake where people camp and swim.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a decade ago to assess contamination in the reservoir. In 2003, the EPA decided Teck was subject to the U.S. Superfund law, demanded the company pay for studies to determine the extent of the pollution, and clean it up.
Teck objected and the tribes sued in 2004 to force the company to comply. The state then joined the case.
However, Teck did agree in 2006 to perform a major study of pollution in the lake, under the direction of the EPA. The company has spent more than $55 million on the study, scheduled for completion in 2015.