EPA claims copper company is violating air quality standards

HAYDEN, AZ - An EPA finding alleges a Hayden Arizona Copper Mine is violating federal standards by releasing lead, arsenic and several other dangerous compounds into the air at well above the federal limits.

The finding comes against Asarco that has its smelter in Hayden.

The investigation claims that on some days in 2011 the emissions where two to three times the federal standard.

For residents who live in Hayden, mining has been a way of life for decades. They have always been concerned about the dangers of living so close.

"No doubt there is stuff going out in the air I think," said Tino Torres. Torres worked at the smelter and so did his son. He can see the plant from his backyard as can nearly all the 900 residents of the small town.

"I think there is a lot of pollution and toxin related cancer and illness," he said.

In 1997, lifelong resident Betty Amparano filed a suit against the company when her seven kids tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood.

A decade later the company settled with Amparano and 200 other residents.

Asarco spokes person Tom Aldrich issued a statement saying the finding is unexpected.

READ THE STATEMENT ON THE NEXT PAGE

Even representatives with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality found the finding puzzling.

Air Quality Director Eric Massey said the EPA did not reveal all their findings to them.  State monitoring, he said shows that the company is and has been in compliance.

The finding does not mean that a fine or citation will be issued. The company must respond to the allegation and the EPA will then consider if action is appropriate.

Statement on the FOV:

"The Finding of Violation (FOV) was unexpected.  In fact, it's even more puzzling because our smelter is in compliance with its air permit.   In Asarco's view, the FOV is simply incorrect because the administrative record shows and we have consistently maintained that the Hayden Smelter is an area source.

The administrative record is based on comprehensive tests of stack and fugitive emissions at the smelter, calculations, and emissions monitoring conducted under the oversight of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). This supports the company's position that the smelter is an "area source" (or "minor source") of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs).

Furthermore, in a 2007 rulemaking, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally designated the Hayden smelter's emissions control technology as the benchmark of HAPs emission control technology applicable to all primary copper smelters that use the same process technology as the Hayden smelter and are "area sources" of HAPs.

ASARCO works closely with its regulators and proactively seeks innovations as science evolves and environmental laws and rules are updated to be more efficient while respecting the environment and our neighbors. 

We look forward to working with EPA and ADEQ, setting the record straight and defending the FOV vigorously."

Statement on the NPR/Institute for Public Integrity reports:

Asarco's detailed explanations that factually disagree with all of the allegations, including the EPA FOV, were omitted from the reports.  The reporter asked thorough questions and we answered the questions thoughtfully. Our concern is that the print and broadcast stories didn't include our detailed responses resulting in an inaccurate, unbalanced report.

We understand that the news media can have an important role in educating and raising public awareness on environmental and health issues. In that spirit, Asarco agreed to an interview with the reporter from the Center for Public Integrity.  We met in July for an entire day, answering his questions and providing a tour of our facility.  Three months after our interview, we received a last-minute request to go on-camera and declined.  Nevertheless, we received follow-up questions that we promptly answered.  In addition, Asarco provided detailed answers to questions about the FOV just this week. Unfortunately, the reporters omitted the majority of our relevant responses.

Asarco employs 2,600+ people in well-paying jobs in Arizona and Texas in an industry that is highly regulated, scientifically-driven, and important to the defense and technological advances of our nation.  The health and safety of our employees and our neighbors is a top priority and we take our responsibilities seriously.

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