11/25/2013 09:18 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. Smelter To Blame For Illnesses, Say Washington Residents


Residents of a small town in northern Washington state may turn to courts to force a B.C. mining company to address what they say is a high prevalence of certain diseases in their community.

Northport, Washington, a town of about 375 people, is 30 kilometres downstream on the Columbia River from Teck Resources’ lead-zinc smelter in Trail, B.C.

Jamie Paparich, who grew up Northport, began an independent public health study two and a half years ago after observing that the number of people there with diseases such as Crohns, colitis, multiple sclerosis and thyroid disorders was unusually high with respect to the population.

“There is just too many people with all those illnesses in a small little town of 375. You don’t expect to know almost 20 people with multiple sclerosis in a town that small,” Paparich says.

That work caught the attention of a research group at Harvard University, who then followed up and confirmed a number of Paparich’s findings.

Now, top U.S. litigator Steve Berman, who made his name with class action law suits against companies like Enron, Exxon, Boeing and Rio Tinto, is visiting Northport to gauge support for a potential suit against Teck Resources.

“There’s time I think it’s so frustrating and nothing has gotten better,” says Paparich.

“But then stuff like this happens. The Harvard study is coming to a head and it’s going to blow the lid off things. And then these lawyers, who I have a lot of faith in, want to talk to town people. So I think it’s coming to a head.”

For its part, Teck has admitted to polluting the Columbia River, but says there is no proven link between its smelter and illness in Northport. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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