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).  

Lead Levels in Trail 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

How can I tell if my shop vac is leaking?

One trick we’ve learned is to rub dish soap around the seal and turn on the vacuum. If you see bubbles, there’s a leak. Consider fixing the seal with Vaseline or something similar. If that doesn’t work, you may need a new part, a new vacuum, or maybe you’ll find a new fix and have a new tip for us. If you are buying a new vacuum, buy a HEPA shop vac to really keep dust down!

What is sulphur dioxide (SO2)?

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a colourless, reactive gas. At higher concentrations it can have a strong odour. It is produced during the combustion of sulphur-containing fuels and industrial operations involving sulphur-containing materials. Major sources of SO2 in BC include the upstream oil and gas industry, metal smelting facilities, pulp / paper mills and marine operations (in the Lower Mainland area). Once released, one possibility is that SO2 can react with other compounds in the air to form fine particulate matter (small solid or liquid particles suspended in air).

Why do we have SO2 in Trail?

SO2 is emitted by Teck Trail Operations as a by-product of processing mine concentrates, which contain sulphur, into metal and chemical products. With environmental improvements, SO2 emissions continue to decline. Teck Trail Operations currently captures more than 99% of the sulphur and converts it to by-products, such as fertilizer and sulphuric acid. About 1% leaves the operation through emissions to air. Sulphur capture at Teck Trail Operations is similar to what you might find at a brand-new smelter. However, the dispersion of air emissions from the smelter is constrained due to the location of the smelter, weather and the surrounding topography. SO2 levels in Trail are not static and fluctuate throughout the day, month and year. See docs 7 and 8 for more information on SO2 levels.

How does SO2 affect my health?

Short-term exposures to elevated SO2 levels can cause the air passages in the lungs to constrict or tighten, leading to breathing difficulties and tightening in the chest. Symptoms may include constriction or tightening of the airways in the lungs, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It may also irritate the nasal passage, throat and eyes. Those most sensitive to the effects of SO2 include persons with chronic respiratory disease, especially persons with asthma. Symptoms may worsen during vigorous exercise or hard physical labour. See docs 7 and 8 for more information on SO2 levels.

What are the long-term risks of SO2 exposure?

Long-term exposure to the particles produced by the reaction of SO2 with other compounds in the air may also affect your health. These particles penetrate deeply into the lungs. This can cause irritation and inflammation that can damage the lining of the lungs and affect other parts of the body. Particles can worsen existing heart and respiratory disease, including emphysema and bronchitis. Because of this, children who live in areas with elevated sulphur dioxide concentrations may develop more breathing problems as they get older.

How do I know if I am sensitive to SO2?

Some people, particularly those with respiratory conditions, may be more sensitive to SO2 exposure. Sensitivities may result in symptoms such as irritation of the eyes and respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Who is at the highest risk of SO2 exposure?

Workers in industrial facilities where SO2 is used or is a by-product of industrial processes have the greatest exposure. People who live near these industries and other point sources can also be exposed to higher levels of SO2. See docs 7 and 8 for more information on SO2 levels.

What actions can I take to reduce potential health effects of SO2?

When SO2 concentrations are elevated, consider reducing or rescheduling activities outdoors, remaining indoors, and reducing indoor sources of SO2 including tobacco smoke and unvented gas stoves. Persons with asthma should follow a management plan developed with their health care provider. If you are having trouble breathing, have chest pain or discomfort, or a severe cough, contact your health care provider or emergency department. See HealthLinkBC for a summary of health recommendations.

The SO2 levels and health guidance in the table below are based on Health Canada’s 2016 Human Health Risk Assessment for Sulphur Dioxide. For more information on the levels experienced in Trail, see docs 8.

SO2 LevelsConsider taking the following action at these levels of SO2
0-35 ppbNone
36-184 ppbPersons with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma should consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities if experiencing symptoms. No effects are expected for the general population.
185+ ppbPersons with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma should reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors. Others, especially children and the elderly should also consider avoiding outdoor physical exertion.
What are the SO2 levels in Trail?

Actual ambient SO2 concentrations in Trail fluctuate throughout the day, month and year.

This chart calculates the total hours of SO2 measured in community air (by monitoring station) in 2020. For actions to take at different levels, see docs 7.

StationSO2 Levels ppbHours / year*% Time *
Birchbank Golf Course0-35760497.4
Trail Butler Park0-35805096.7
Trail Columbia Gardens Airport0-35835499.7
Warfield Elementary0-35780193.9
*In 2020 Birchbank Golf Course monitored 89% of the year, and the remaining three stations monitored 95% of the year.
**In 2020, all hours that measured above 185 occurred between 7am-11am.

Although levels fluctuate, monitoring data from recent years exceed the benchmarks for ambient air quality set by the Provincial and Federal governments that came into effect in 2020.

Find current and historical data online at:

Where is SO2 monitored in Trail?

SO2 is monitored by Teck at four locations throughout Trail and the surrounding areas – Birchbank, Butler Park, Columbia Gardens and Warfield. These stations operate continuously, with near real-time data publicly available. SO2 levels fluctuate throughout the day, month and year. Find current and historical levels online at:

What is Teck doing to reduce SO2 emissions?

Over the past 30 years, over $1.7 billion has been invested in a modernization program to improve the operational and environmental performance at Teck Trail Operations resulting in significant improvements in community air quality.

Teck Trail Operations currently captures more than 99% of the sulphur contained in feed and meets the highest standard for sulphur capture for base metal smelters across Canada.

Teck Trail Operations has made a 25% reduction in emissions in the last ten years, accomplished through the installation of two new state of the art Acid Plants and operational changes. Teck Trail Operations continues to drive improvements and is currently advancing capital projects to achieve further reductions by 2023. 

In addition to SO2 emissions reduction initiatives, Teck Trail Operations uses near real-time data to manage SO2 .

How does Teck Trail Operations use data to manage SO2 levels in Trail?

In addition to reducing emissions, near real-time data is transmitted to Teck Trail Operations’ process control systems. If SO2 levels begin to rise (such as during a temperature inversion or during periods of higher emissions), plants at Teck Trail Operations are automatically notified so that actions can be taken to further reduce SO2 at the source and in the community.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Teck Trail have the ultimate goal of achievement of the Provincial and Federal benchmarks.

Who regulates Teck with respect to SO2?

Teck Trail Operations operates under permits established by the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV).

What are the applicable standards for SO2?

Air quality is managed to protect the environment and human health relative to BC’s Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) and the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS). For SO2, BC AQO are the same as the CAAQS; more information about these standards can be found at:

BC uses these benchmarks to guide regulatory decisions, including permitting of discharges to air, to assess air quality, issue public advisories, aid regulatory development and support long-term air management strategies.

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.

Download the Lead Fact Sheet and FAQ (pdf)

Lead (Pb) Fact Sheet (pdf)

Pb Lead Fact Sheet

Lead (Pb) FAQ (pdf)

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


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


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.