Collaboration Leads to a Successful Health and Environment Program at Trail
Trail, British Columbia, the location of our refining and smelting complex.
On May 9, 1988, a Trail, B.C. mother phoned our Manager of Environment to request soil testing. Who could have guessed this call would spark two decades of successful collaboration between our company, community and governments to protect people’s health and the environment in the Trail area? Today, the Trail Area Health & Environment Program is still going strong.
As a result of that first phone call, soil lead levels near the Trail smelter were checked and discussions commenced with provincial officials about blood lead levels in local children. A UBC health researcher was contracted to study blood lead levels in children under 6 years old in Trail, revealing an average blood lead level of 13 micrograms per deciliter of blood (μg/dL), compared to 5 μg/dL in children of similar age in Vancouver.
Lead exposure can affect children’s intellectual development and behavior, hence the Trail Community Lead Task Force was formed in 1990, mandated to reduce children’s blood lead levels. The Task Force was chaired by the Mayor of Trail and included representatives from the provincial and municipal governments, our company, the United Steelworkers, the public, the School District and a network of environmental groups. The Task Force members shared costs and forged a collaborative style from the outset. Lead exposure pathways were studied and test actions were subsequently developed, aimed directly at reducing blood lead levels, using a science-based and results-focused approach.
In 2000, the Task Force conducted major public consultations before issuing its recommendations for on-going programs. The Task Force subsequently evolved into the community-led Trail Health & Environment Committee, with much the same representation. We now pay the bulk of program costs, amounting to over $1 million per year. The Committee continues to monitor emissions and blood lead levels, directing programs and budgets accordingly. The activities started by the Task Force now represent a comprehensive, integrated program supporting Family Health, Home and Garden, Air Quality, Parks and Wildlands and Property Development.
Over the past 20 years, the Program has achieved significant results. Today, the average blood lead level in children of a comparable age in Trail is just over 5 μg/dL, a reduction of over 60% from 1989 levels. This means that 90% of Trail’s youngsters test below the ‘level of concern’ of 10 μg/dL, as defined by several international organizations. Many actions contributed to this success, the biggest factor being the huge reduction in emissions achieved by the new state of the art, low emission KIVCET lead smelter installed in the late 1990s, as recommended by the Task Force. This investment was the final piece in a $1 billion program of upgrades at the Trail facility.
Over the past 20 years we have learnt that successful collaboration doesn’t come easily. Longtime Committee member Dr. Nelson Ames, retired Medical Health Officer, states “a lot of trust has been built. There’s a constant tension between collaborating and playing our individual roles such as, in my case, making sure the health risk priorities are addressed.” A key strength of the Committee is that its decisions are honoured by all parties and lead to actions on the ground. We appreciate this on-going, detailed public accountability and take community direction on health and environment investments. As Dr. Ames states “despite changes in personnel and ownership, Teck has been a concerned and active participant since the beginning.”
Twenty years of success could lead to complacency, but the Committee regularly renews its goals and will be conducting further public consultations in 2010. The on-going challenge is to further reduce air emissions and blood lead levels. Public accountability requires informed decision makers, so the Committee continually seeks ways to retain high levels of public participation through its accessibility to laypeople. Teck’s representative on the Committee says, “The Trail experience has shown how to directly involve the community in understanding and managing a crucial environmental issue. We owe it to the world to sustain this effective approach.”