Air Quality Program: Lead (Pb)

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. One of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelting facilities, which refines mine concentrates into metals, has been operating in Trail for over a hundred years. The Air Quality Program works to improve air quality in the community through emissions reductions, air quality monitoring, and community dust control.

Vista of Trail
smelter icon

The goal is always to recover as much metal as possible from concentrates but due to the limits of technology, lead and other metals have been emitted into the air. Both stack and fugitive emissions (dust that escapes from buildings, stockpiles, roadways and other activities on site) have caused metals to be deposited in the dust in the Trail area.

Reducing health risks to children
associated with Lead (Pb)

Young children are mainly exposed to lead through hand-to-mouth activity (ingestion) rather than breathing. In Trail, much of the lead in dust comes from ongoing smelter emissions. Lead exposure can have detrimental effects on early childhood development and children’s future outcomes. Lead is most harmful to children younger than age 6 and especially those younger than age 3. A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her baby. Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother’s breast milk. There is no known safe level of lead exposure.

Lead Exposure Pathways Diagram

Lead can come from many sources. The above pathways diagram isn’t an exhaustive list. You can find out about lead in consumer products on the Government of Canada recalls and safety alerts page; search for Lead.

Lead (Pb) in air has been significantly reduced in Trail

Plant modernization and operational improvements at Teck Trail Operations, including installation of the KIVCET lead smelter in 1997, reduced emissions of lead and other metals from the smelter stacks by over 99% since the 1990s. Children’s blood lead levels have decreased significantly over the same time period.

In 2012, Teck initiated a multi-year program to reduce fugitive dust emissions from the Trail Operations site to further improve ambient air quality. Since the inception of fugitive emissions reduction, lead levels in community air have seen a 80% reduction to around 0.07 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter of air).  

Chart: Annual average for lead in community air from 1990 – 2020

The chart above shows the annual average for lead in community air from 1990 – 2020.

The Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC) is always aiming to improve air quality in Trail. Historically, THEC in consultation with the community, reviewed standards from other Canadian jurisdictions and developed air quality goals to drive improvement. Those goals were achieved in 2016 (for arsenic) and 2017 (for lead). Going forward, THEC will seek continuous improvement in ambient air quality through ongoing initiatives at Teck Trail Operations.

 

Monitoring metals is key to action in the near and long-term

Map of Trail Air Quality Monitoring Stations

Teck Community Air Monitoring Stations

Regular monitoring helps identify significant emissions sources, track the effectiveness of emissions and dust control efforts, and track progress on air quality goals. Teck conducts the following monitoring in the community:

  • Measures of lead, arsenic and other particles in the air are taken at two testing locations in the Lower Columbia: Butler Park and Birchbank. Readings are taken over 24-hour periods.
  • Every hour, analyzers measure metals concentrations at Butler Park and Duncan Flats and transmit readings directly to Trail Operations. Trail Operations immediately responds to any unexpected increase.
  • Dustfall measurements are collected on a monthly basis at Birchbank, Downtown Trail, Columbia Avenue, Columbia Gardens, Tadanac, Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, Glenmerry, Oasis, Stoney Creek, Waneta and Warfield. These measurements help understand changes in dust settling in the community over time.

This information is collected and analyzed by Teck’s environment staff and reported to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy as well as the Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC). THEC meetings are open to the public, occur five times per year, and include an air quality report with the most current data available.

Dust control in the community

In addition to addressing stack and fugitive dust emissions from Teck Trail Operations, the Air Quality Program includes ongoing dust control in the community. In the summer months, the Trail area can be very dry. Additional street sweeping and dust suppression keeps dust, which may have lead content, down in the dry months. While most towns only clean streets in the spring and fall, the City of Trail performs at least two additional street sweepings of the whole community in summer as well as weekly sweeping and flushing of the downtown core. Dust suppressant is applied to unpaved alleys in Trail each June. One additional summer sweeping is performed in Rivervale. The roads are flushed with water at the time of sweeping so that dust is not stirred up in the process.

Trail Street Cleaning Schedules

Every Friday
Downtown core – swept and flushed
Victoria St. – swept and flushed
Rossland Ave. – swept and flushed
Victoria St. bridge – swept and flushed
Baily St. (from the Victoria St. bridge to the Fifth Ave. tunnel) – swept and flushed

Annual Cleaning
West Trail Approach – major cleanup in the spring including storm sewer flushing, and sweeping
Bingay Rd. (Warfield Hill) – major cleanup in the spring including storm sewer flushing, and sweeping
Flushing of all amenity areas, and sidewalks throughout the highways corridor

Monday to Thursday on a ±2 week rotating basis
Waneta – 1 day
Glenmerry – 1.5 days
Miral Heights/Shavers Bench – 1.5 days
East Trail – 2 days
Sunningdale – 1 day
West Trail  – 2 days
Bingay Rd./Stoney Creek Rd. and Tadanac – 1 day

Dust suppressant is applied to unpaved alleys in Trail each June

Lead (Pb) FAQs

What is Lead (Pb)?

Lead (Pb) is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. You can find lead in various products such as vehicle batteries, radiation protection and soundproofing.

How does Pb affect my health?

Lead exposure can have detrimental effects on early childhood development and children’s future outcomes. Lead is most harmful to children younger than age 6 and especially those younger than age 3. A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her baby. Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother’s breast milk. There is no known safe level of lead exposure. Visit thep.ca to learn about actions you can take to help reduce your family’s exposure to lead.

Why do we have Pb in Trail?

In addition to environmental lead contributions from historical use of products such as lead-based paint and leaded gasoline, Trail is home to one of the world’s largest lead and zinc smelting and refining facilities, in operation for over one hundred years. While significant operational improvements have been made to reduce emissions from process stacks and fugitive sources (buildings, stockpiles and roadways), lead and other metals in dust have been dispersed in the Trail area.

Continuous improvement is a key component of Teck Trail Operations Environmental Management System (ISO14001) and emissions reduction activities continue.

Who is at highest risk of Pb exposure?

Young children are at highest risk of Pb exposure and its effects because:

  • They often put their hands and objects in their mouths.
  • They sometimes swallow non-food items.
  • Their bodies absorb lead at a higher rate.
  • Their brains are developing quickly.

Pregnant women exposed to lead can pass it to the baby. Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother’s breast milk.

What actions can I take to reduce my family’s exposure to Pb in dust?

Primary prevention is the most effective way to prevent lead exposure.

Actions you can take to reduce the risk of lead exposure include:

  1. Wash your hands and your children’s hands especially before eating and after playing outdoors.
  2. Eat foods that have enough iron and other vitamins and minerals. A person who eats a balanced, nutritious diet may absorb less lead. Eat at the table.
  3. Keep your floors dust-free by vacuuming and damp-mopping often. Leave outside shoes at the door. Damp dust frequently, especially window ledges and countertops.
  4. Keep outdoor play areas clean. Cover the sandbox when you are finished playing. Hose off patios, play equipment, and driveways often. Play on the grass and cover bare soil areas.
  5. Renovate safely. Seal off the area of work, and clean well when complete. Keep children and pregnant women away if possible.

Secondary prevention including blood lead testing and follow-up minimizes further exposure. Trail offers an annual voluntary blood lead testing clinic for children under five years old.

What are the Pb in air levels in Trail?

As shown in the following chart, lead in air levels have fallen dramatically over the years and in 2020 lead in ambient air averaged 0.07 micrograms per cubic metre, the lowest level to date.

Figure 1 Annual Average Lead in Community Air 1990-2020.

In addition, summary reports are provided at the bi-monthly public Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC) meetings. Meeting minutes are available online.

What are the applicable standards for Pb in air?

Currently, the Federal and BC Provincial governments do not have ambient air quality objectives or standards for lead.  However, it is reasonable to rely on standards from other jurisdictions when this is the case and the US EPA has a standard of 0.15 micrograms per cubic metre lead in total suspended particulate matter as a 3-month average. Pb in air levels measured at Butler Park and Birchbank met the US EPA standard of 0.15 ug/m3 on a 3-month average throughout 2020.

There is no known safe level of lead exposure. The Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC) has a goal of continuous reduction of lead in the community and the partners focus on efforts to achieve this.

Where is Pb in air monitored?

Teck conducts the following monitoring in the community: 

  • Measures of lead, arsenic and other particles in the air are taken at two testing locations in the Lower Columbia: Butler Park and Birchbank. Readings are taken over 24-hour periods.

This information is collected and analyzed by Teck’s environment staff and reported to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy as well as the Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC). THEC meetings are open to the public, occur five times per year, and include an air quality report with the most current data available.

In addition to the 24-hour samples collected at Butler Park and Birchbank, Teck also conducts the following monitoring:

  • Every hour, analyzers measure metals concentrations at Butler Park and Duncan Flats and transmit readings directly to Trail Operations. Trail Operations immediately responds to any abnormal increase. See question 8 for how these data are used.
  • Dustfall measurements are collected on a monthly basis at Birchbank, Downtown Trail, Columbia Avenue, Columbia Gardens, Tadanac, Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, Glenmerry, Oasis, Stoney Creek, Waneta and Warfield. These measurements help understand changes in dust settling in the community over time. 

How does Teck Trail Operations use data to manage Pb levels in air in Trail?

Every hour, analyzers measure metals concentrations at Butler Park and Duncan Flats. Near real-time data is transmitted to Teck Trail Operations’ process control systems. If Pb levels begin to rise, plants at Teck Trail Operations are automatically notified so that actions can be taken to reduce Pb emissions.

What is Teck doing to reduce Pb emissions?

Over the past 30 years, there have been significant improvements in community air quality and over $1.7 billion has been invested in a modernization program to improve our operational and environmental performance at Teck Trail Operations. Since the installation of the KIVCET Smelter in 1997 and subsequent operations improvements at Teck Trail Operations, there has been a 99.5% reduction in stack lead emissions.

The Air Quality Program, one of five programs overseen by the Trail Area Health & Environment Committee, is managed by Teck Trail Operations, and continues to reduce lead in the environment through the comprehensive Fugitive Dust Reduction Program.

Fugitive dust reduction efforts include:

  • construction of the Smelter Recycle Building, close to the size of two Canadian football fields, in 2016 to enclose mixing and storage of process feed materials;
  • installation of a ten-metre high wind fence reducing dusting where we mix feeds; 
  • installation of wheel washes and truck washes onsite help reduce tracking of materials onto roads;
  • onsite street cleaning, via street sweepers and water trucks, provide a year-round program of roadway sweeping and flushing; and,
  • identification and reduction of fugitive dust sources from work activities in our operating plants. 

Who regulates Teck’s Pb emissions?

Teck operates under air quality permits issued by the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV).

How does Teck share air quality information locally?

Teck shares summary information at the bi-monthly Trail Area Health & Environment Committee (THEC) meetings which are open to the public. All air quality reports are also published online at thep.ca.  Lastly, Teck participates in the THEC Air Quality Working Group to share more detailed information on air quality management at Teck and in the community.

If I have a concern about air quality or health, who do I contact?

Residents who have concerns about air quality are encouraged to call the Teck Community and Environment Feedback line at (250) 364-4817, a phone line answered 24 hours a day. 

If you have a health concern specific to lead exposure, please contact THEP Family Health Services at the Kiro Wellness Centre 250-364-5945 or text your public health nurse 250-231-5945.

Download the Lead Fact Sheet and FAQ (pdf)

Lead (Pb) Fact Sheet (pdf)

Lead (Pb) FAQ (pdf)

If I have a health or environment concern, who should I contact?

General

Residents who have questions or concerns about air quality are encouraged to call Teck’s Community and Environment Feedback line at 250-364-4817 or

Health

If you have a health concern specific to lead exposure, please contact THEP Family Health Services at the Kiro Wellness Centre 250-364-5945 or text your public health nurse 250-231-5945.