ASARCO LLC is a
mining, smelting, and refiningcompany based in Tucson, Arizonathat mines and processes primarily copper. The company, a subsidiary of Grupo México, is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. ASARCO plans to emerge from bankruptcy in 2008, and opposes calls for it to totally liquidate its mining and industrial assets. [ [http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2008/02/08/ap4634908.html Asarco Gets Ch 11 Plan Extension—Forbes.com—February 8, 2008] ]
Its three largest
open pit mines are the Mission, Silver Bell and the Ray mines in Arizona. Its mines produce 350 to 400 million pounds of copper a year. ASARCO conducts solvent extraction/ electrowinningat the Ray and Silver Bell mines in Pima County, Arizonaand Pinal County, Arizonaand a smelter in Hayden, Arizona. Before its smelting plant in El Paso, Texaswas suspended in 1999 it was producing 1 billion pounds of anodes each year. Refining at the mines as well as at a copper refinery in Amarillo, Texasproduce 375 million pounds of refined copper each year.
ASARCO's hourly workers are primarily represented by the
ASARCO has 20
superfundsites across the United States, and it is subject to considerable litigation over pollution. India-based Sterlite Industries announced the acquisition of Asarco on 31st May, 2008 for US$2.6 billion. Sterlite would become the world’s third largest copper miner with a combined capacity of 650,000 tonnes a year, if the Asarco deal closes. Grupo Mexico, the current owner, opposes the sale, and hopes to block it [ [http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Business/India_Business/Grupo_Mexico_to_block_US_buy_of_Sterlite/articleshow/3091267.cms Grupo Mexico to block US buy of Sterlite-India Business-Business-The Times of India ] ] .
ASARCO was founded in 1899 as the American Smelting And Refining Company by
Henry H. Rogers, William Rockefeller, Adolph Lewisohnand Leonard Lewisohn. In 1901 Meyer Guggenheimand his sons took over the company. In 1916, 17 ASARCO employees were killed and mutilated by Pancho Villa's men, one of the incidents that sparked the US Military's Punitive Expedition against Villa.
In 1975 it officially changed its name to ASARCO Incorporated. In 1999 it was acquired by Grupo México, which itself began as ASARCO's 49%-owned Mexican subsidiary in 1965, and on August 17, 2005, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Corpus Christi,
Texasunder then-president Daniel Tellechea.
Pollution and environmental issues
ASARCO has been found responsible for environmental pollution at 20
Superfundsites across the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those sites are:
#Interstate Lead Company, or ILCO, labeled EPA Site ALD041906173, and located in Leeds,
Jefferson County, Alabama[ [http://www.epa.gov/Region4/waste/npl/nplal/ilcoal.htm ILCO] EPA. Retrieved 4/10/08.]
#Argo Smelter, Omaha & Grant Smelter, labeled EPA Site COD002259588, and located at Vasquez Boulevard and
I-70in Denver, Colorado[ [http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/vbi70/ Argo Smelter, Omaha and Grant Smelter] , EPA. Retrieved 4/10/08.]
#Lowry Landfill, labeled EPA Site COD980499248, and located at 4200 South Gun Club Road in Aurora,
Arapahoe County, Colorado[ [http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/lowry/ Lowry Landfill] , EPA. Retrieved 4/11/08.]
# [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/recycle/live/region8_co.html California Gulch mine and river systems] in
# [http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/summitville/ Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc. (SCMCI)] , now bankrupt, EPA Site COD983778432, in Del Norte, Rio Grande County, Colorado;
# [http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/asarco/ ASARCO Globe Plant] , EPA Site COD007063530, Globeville, near South Platte River, Denver and Adams County, Colorado;
# [http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/sites/bh Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical] ,
Coeur d'AleneRiver Basin, Idaho;
#Circle Smelting Corporation in
#NL Industries/Taracorp lead smelter in Illinois;
Cherokee Countylead and zinc mine and surrounding area in Kansas;
#Oronogo-Duenweg mining belt in Missouri;
#East Helena smelter and surrounding residences in Montana;
Kin-Buc Landfillin New Jersey;
#Tar Creek (Ottawa County) iron and zinc operations and surrounding residences in Oklahoma;
#Tonolli Corporation smelter in Pennsylvania;
#Ross Metals smelter and surface water in Tennessee;
#Murray smelter in Utah;
#Richardson Flat tailings in Utah;
Commencement Bay, Near Shore/Tide Flats smelter, groundwater, and residences in Tacoma and Ruston, Washington.
#Former location of South side Park in Chicago, old home of the Chicago White Sox
The first environmental lawsuit was brought against Asarco in 1910 by a group of farmers in
Solano County, Californiafor the sulfur dioxide emissionsfrom the company's San Francisco Bay smelter. The court granted an injunctionthat shut down the smelter, and the decision was upheld by the California Supreme Court. One of Asarco's lawyers then got a committee appointed, which included a company-appointed chemist, which led to a settlement that limited the smelter's release of sulfur dioxide to 30 tons per day. The settlement did not address lead, and scores of horses died of chronic lead exposurein the area in the following decades.
"United States v. Asarco" rulings have been unfavorable to the company in
Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
In the 1970s, the
Centers for Disease Controlfound the ASARCO smelter in El Paso, Texaswas responsible for abnormally high lead levels in children who lived nearby. The city won a lawsuit against the company and, although denying guilt, ASARCO agreed to strict monitoring for lead, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic releases as well as to provide medical exams and blood therapy to children with lead poisoning.
After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued ASARCO for damages to natural resources in 1983, the EPA placed the ASARCO Globe Plant on its National Priorities List, with ASARCO to pay for the site's cleanup. [ [http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/asarco/ ASARCO Globe Plant, Colorado] ]
ASARCO consolidated several plants at the corner of 5th & Douglas Streets in
Downtown Omahaon April 4, 1889. Within 25 years it was the largest lead refinery in the world. In 1972 the plant was found to be releasing high amounts of lead into the air and ground surrounding the plant. In 1995 ASARCO submitted a demolition and site cleanup plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for their impact on the local residential area. Fined $3.6 million in 1996 for discharging lead and other pollutants into the Missouri River, Omaha's ASARCO plant was closed in July, 1997. [ [http://www.omahapubliclibrary.org/earlyomaha/buildings/american_smelting.html Early Omaha: Gateway to the West: American Smelter and Refining Company] Omaha Public Library. Retrieved 2/3/08.] After extensive site cleanup, the land was turned over to the City of Omaha as a 23-acre park. All of North Omaha, comprising more than 8,000 acres (32 km²), was declared a Superfund site, and as of 2003, 290 acres (1.2 km²) had been cleaned. [(2003) [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/nar1660.htm National Priorities List Site Narrative for Omaha Lead] . United States EPA. Retrieved 2/3/08.]
In January 2003, ASARCO and the Environmental Protection Agency set up a
trust fundof $100 million to help pay for the company's environmental clean-up costs. Actual estimated costs for clean-up were between $500 million and $1 billion, as of 2006.
One stated reason for declaring bankruptcy was the number of pending lawsuits (Daniel Tellechea identified "numerous environmental-related lawsuits brought by governmental authorities and private parties"). Asarco had more than 100 civil environmental cases pending against it when it filed for bankruptcy.
In January 2003, nearly 3 years prior to the bankruptcy filing, Asarco sold its interest in
Southern Peru Copperto Grupo Méxicofor $765 million. This transaction was reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. $100 million of the proceeds from this transaction were used to establish the aforementioned environmental remediation fund. Due to the historically low copper prices prevailing in late 2002, contemporary independent valuation reports show that Grupo México paid a 20% premium to fair market value to acquire the Southern Peru Copper interest. Following the ASARCO bankruptcy, Grupo México's profits rose sharply (along with ASARCO's and every other copper mining firm in the world), due primarily to the 500% rise in the market price of copper from January 2003 to today. Half of this increase occurred in the 18 months immediately following Asarco's bankruptcy filing.
In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of soil and air tests in Hayden, Arizona taken adjacent to the ASARCO Hayden Smelter. The results showed abnormally high amounts of pollutants that violate prescribed health standards. Arsenic, lead and copper were among the most egregious pollutants found in Hayden. As a consequence of the contamination, the EPA proposed to add Hayden, Arizona to the list of Federal "Superfund" sites. This action would provide funding to clean up the contamination.
ASARCO is presently fighting this action, supported by Democratic Gov.
Janet Napolitano, who said: "I am asking that the EPA delay final decision on listing until March 31, 2008. This would provide ample time for the EPA, in close coordination with ADEQ, [ [http://www.azdeq.gov Arizona Department of Environmental Quality] ] to enter an agreement with ASARCO to conduct remedial actions..."
The local workers at the Hayden smelter call windy, stormy nights "Smelting Weather", referring to the company's intentional night-time violations of pollution laws facilitated by windy conditions. The company has been known to willingly pay for repainting employees' cars parked at the smelter and damaged by airborne acids, while claiming no significant emission of sulphuric acid fumes. While the top of the smokestack at the plant seldom shows visible emissions, most of the airborne contaminants are released at ground level (termed "fugitive gases").
ASARCO has sometimes put pressure on their employees to ignore health, safety and environmental issues. In August 2007, after the proposed Superfund action by the Environmental Protection Agency, David Romero (a salaried foreman) called the hourly workers together and told them: "I know that there are guys here who are trying to get pictures of the pollution clouds in the plant to give to the EPA. You might think that's funny, but we could all lose our jobs if they can prove things." (http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=8634)
List of Superfund sites in Alabama
List of Superfund sites in Colorado
List of Superfund sites in Illinois
* [http://www.asarco.com/ ASARCO corporate website]
* [http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/ASARCO-INCORPORATED-Company-History.html profile in International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 4. St. James Press, 1991 (via fundinguniverse.com)]
* [http://www.grupomexico.com/Html/AboutUsGM.htm Grupo México history]
* Marilyn Berlin Snell, [http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200605/goingforbroke/page1.asp "Going for Broke"] "Sierra Club Magazine", May/June 2006.
* Michael E. Ketterer, [http://sierraclub.org/environmental_justice/ASARCO_study_13106.pdf The ASARCO El Paso Smelter: A Source of Local Contamination of Soils in El Paso (Texas), Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua, Mexico), and Anapra (New Mexico)] , 2006. * [http://www.txpeer.org/toxictour/corpus_christi.html Corpus Christi's Refinery row]
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