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EPA orders Phelps Dodge to pay $220,000 for copper mine discharges

Release Date: 9/17/2003
Contact Information: Wendy Chavez, (415) 947-4248

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the settlement of a Clean Water Act case with Phelps Dodge Corp. over discharges of contaminated water from the United Verde Mine in Jerome, Ariz.

Under the settlement, Phelps Dodge agreed to pay $220,000 in civil penalties and to control all future discharges.

The inactive mine discharges water containing copper, cadmium, zinc and other pollutants into Bitter Creek, however Phelps Dodge has never had a Clean Water Act permit for such discharges. The mine discharges acid mine drainage from seeps and a mine tunnel into the creek.

In a typical year, thousands of pounds of copper and zinc, and hundreds of pounds of cadmium, are discharged to the ephemeral stream bed and have the potential to wash down to the Verde River in wet years. These contaminants can harm aquatic life.

"Inactive mines can still pose an environmental risk. It's important for us to protect the beautiful Verde River and its tributaries," said Alexis Strauss, the EPA's Water Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "Phelps Dodge is now poised to prevent discharge from the mine in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA."

Under the direction of the EPA and the ADEQ, Phelps Dodge will build structures at the mine that will control the surface and groundwater discharges. This will cost Phelps Dodge about $11 million to complete.

The United Verde Mine is an inactive copper mine that operated from the late 1800's until 1953. The site is located near the Verde River, adjacent to the town of Jerome. At sites like this, ground or surface water drains through old mine tunnels or waste rock and comes into contact with acidic minerals which then dissolve metals. This polluted water can then flow to the surface and contaminate streams like Bitter Creek.