Survey to assess tribes’ exposure

A study of pollutants in the Upper Columbia River will include a detailed survey of members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The survey will query tribal members about their diet across four seasons, including fish consumption. It will ask about medicinal and ceremonial use of plants and the gathering of other traditional resources, such as reeds for basket making. The survey also includes questions about the use of river water in sweat lodges and recreational use of the river.

The 12- to 15-month survey will be one of the nation’s most comprehensive studies of how contemporary indigenous people interact with the environment, said Marc Stifelman, an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist.

The results will help the tribes evaluate how their members are exposed to pollution from Teck Resources, which dumped a century’s worth of contaminants into the river from its smelter in Trail, B.C.

“We have very little information about what people are using and exposed to,” said Patti Bailey, the tribes’ project manager for the EPA’s remedial investigation.

Members of the tribes will conduct the survey work, which will begin this fall, Bailey said. The survey will reach households on and off the reservation.

In 1999, the Confederated Colville Tribes petitioned the EPA to assess pollutants in Lake Roosevelt under the federal Superfund program. Five years later, two tribal members sued Teck Resources in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington. Teck’s lawyers argued that because the pollution originated in Canada, it wasn’t subject to U.S. laws.

The district court disagreed, saying the corporation could be sued for liability – an opinion that was later affirmed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

That opinion was upheld again in early 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied Teck Resources’ request to intervene in the 9th Circuit Court’s decision that the Canadian corporation is subject to U.S. environmental law. The tribes’ suit against Teck is ongoing.


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