Teck Trail Operations says the company's entire domestic piping system at its plant in Trail, B.C., is now being checked after a chemical spill last week reached the Columbia River.
Up to 25,000 litres of a high pH solution accidentally entered a domestic sewer line on Tuesday. The line, which runs to the regional district's sewage treatment facility, discharges to the river.
The incident is not expected to have a long-term effect on fish or the environment, said the mining company, which has notified B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada.
"We do take this incident very seriously and we will be conducting a very thorough investigation," Richard Deane, a Teck spokesman, said in an interview Sunday.
"We will be working with the regional district to determine exactly how this occurred, and also through environmental assessment work will determine any impact there might have been."
Mr. Deane said there is no human health impact as a result of the spill. Trail's drinking water comes upstream of the Teck plant, which is owned and operated by Teck Metals Ltd., a subsidiary of Teck Resources Ltd. A Ministry of Environment spokesman said the ministry is aware of the incident and is working to make sure all the necessary steps are taken.
But Dieter Bogs, the mayor of Trail, said the community is always concerned when a spill occurs. He said he's been told there will be no long-term effect on fish or aquatic life and added he's hoping that's the case.
"This particular one did not go directly in the river, but went through our treatment facility. So it was neutralized from that perspective," he said in an interview.
Mr. Deane said the solution involved in the spill, which likely included industrial cleaning agent sodium hydroxide, came from a containment area. He said the solution was supposed to go to an on-site treatment plant, but ended up in the domestic sewer line instead.
He could not say when the company's investigation would be complete. The environmental impact assessment will be conducted by a third party.
Mr. Deane said the company has taken some immediate measures, including removing the piping connection that led the solution to the domestic sewer line.
Mr. Bogs described Teck as a "good corporate citizen" and recalled a community forum that was held after an earlier spill, in which the employees felt "extremely bad" about the mistake that had been made. "They spend an incredible amount of money trying to control and be on top of all of the situations. But every once in a while, it just sort of happens," the mayor said.
In May, 2008, more than 950 kilograms of lead and 375 litres of acid were released into the Columbia River. In October, 2010, there was a mercury leak into the same waterway.
Teck Resources is facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States on allegations that its smelter in Trail has polluted the river. A Washington state woman claims pollutants released into the water are to blame for her breast cancer and other health problems.
With a report from The Canadian Press