Canadian mining company Teck Metals Inc. has admitted in U.S. District Court to dumping toxic metals and other pollution into the Columbia River near the Washington border during the past century.
The legal stipulation released Monday comes a week before the company is set to defend itself in a trial brought by the Colville Confederated Tribes and the state of Washington.
The company’s smelter and ore processing operations in Trail, B.C., discharged hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous materials and metals from slag and industrial sewage.
The toxic metals include mercury, arsenic, lead, zinc, copper and cadmium. The pollution washed onto the river’s banks as sediments, creating black sand beaches in some areas.
Though Teck admitted it has discharged pollutants into the river, the company argues that it is not subject to United States law.
U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko has been asked to decide whether the company is liable under U.S. law, according to a news release from Washington’s Department of Ecology.
Teck has been fighting against and at times working with the tribes and Washington regulators for years over how to best manage Columbia River pollution.
The company is conducting studies in concert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine the extent of contamination, which some say could cost more than $1 billion to clean up.
Teck has spent millions of dollars improving its smelter, which sits about six miles north of the Washington border.