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EPA files complaint against Asarco for air violations at Arizona smelter

Release Date: 9/28/2005
Contact Information: Wendy L. Chavez, (415) 947-4248

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today filed a complaint against Asarco that alleges Clean Air Act violations at its copper smelter in Hayden, Ariz.

Asarco's September through December 2002 emission reports submitted to the EPA show that the facility emitted more than the allowable 20 percent of opacity emissions, and also failed to operate control equipment consistent with good air pollution control practices for minimizing emissions on 13 days between September and December 2002.

"Emission limits are put in place for a reason -- to protect public health and the surrounding environment," said Deborah Jordan, the EPA's Air Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "Companies like Asarco have a responsibility to protect air quality and minimize pollution."

Under the Clean Air Act, facilities are prohibited from discharging or causing the discharge of emissions into the environment above 20 percent opacity. The EPA measures opacity from emissions by viewing light through the emissions. If only 80 percent of the light passes through, the opacity is 20 percent. Asarco's maximum opacity emissions were at 32 percent for a single six-minute average.

Frequent monitoring of the opacity of emissions prevents excess emissions of particulates that can penetrate deep into lungs and cause respiratory problems, ranging from short-term coughs and wheezing to serious diseases such as emphysema.

In October, the EPA, in coordination with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, sampled for 17 metals at over 200 public places and residences in Kearny, Hayden and Winkelman, Ariz. looking for possible soil contamination resulting from nearby smelter activities, and found elevated levels of arsenic and copper in Hayden and Winkelman.

Currently, the EPA is conducting a comprehensive investigation to determine the extent and nature of the elevated levels of arsenic and copper. The results from the additional soil sampling, air monitoring and water sampling will help identify potential risk to the community and determine whether any cleanup is necessary.