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Ecology Hopes to Renew Air Monitoring in Northport

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The Canadian Press
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Residents of Northport, Washington are being told that Washington state is looking into funding sources for air monitoring of emissions from a lead and zinc smelter some 20 miles away in British Columbia.

Monitoring of air quality on the Washington side of the border of the Teck Resources smelter in Trail, British Columbia has not been conducted since 2009. That’s after the company made major efforts to reduce its emissions of Lead, Cadmium and Zinc.

But some Northport residents feel the potential health threat is still there, and want the EPA to renew the air monitoring.

But the federal agency decided that analysis of existing data didn’t warrant any more testing.

EPA’s Cami Grandinetti says they turned down a petition from 100 residents asking for more testing.

“Back in 1999 to 2009, before their upgrades, even at those levels, we weren’t seeing a risk, so even at those higher historical levels, we weren’t seeing a risk, and we know they have been making improvements to that facility, which from our perspective means those numbers continue to go down or are lower than they were, so what was not a risk before is still not a risk,” she said.

Even so, the Northeast Tri-County Health District is one agency that has sided with the residents in calling for renewed air monitoring. Matt Shunts is the agency’s administrator. He says computer modeling of the emissions is enough to warrant renewed air testing.

 “You know we have just immediately north of us, in that Northport area, is the largest zinc and lead smelter, I believe, in North America, and so it’s pretty important to our citizens who live in that area, and we who represent public health, to know what those impacts are,” said Shunts.

Shunts says some blood lead testing has been conducted in the community, but none of the testing has shown elevated levels of concern.

Despite EPA’s decision, the State Department of Ecology has decided it will try to begin the air monitoring again.

“Our toxicologist report indicates that there isn’t an imminent threat to the environment, but there is a potential increase in health risk over a lifetime of exposure,” says Ecology spokeswoman Brook Beeler.

The issue now is locating the funding. Beeler says it’s estimated the monitoring could cost $300,000 for two years.

“We don’t know if there are grants available for monitoring or if there is money available in our own budget. Right now we are in budget development, so we don’t have a good sense if money might be available,” Beeler said.

EPA officials say it is possible the state might be able to get some of the funding through the federal agency.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.