HAYDEN’S SMELTER TURNS 100 YEARS, POLLUTION ISSUES WORRY RESIDENTS BUT QUIET LIFE, GOOD JOB, A BIG PLUS
On Nov. 10, 2011 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved against ASARCO for six years of illegal emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium and seven other dangerous compounds from the smelter. The EPA issued an unpublicized administrative action that could result in millions of dollars in fines for allegedly being in “continuous violation” of the Clean Air Act since June 2005. The action is a slap at both the company and the state for their failure to act.
Hard Rock Mining has deep roots in Arizona soil. For 300 years miners have walked this state looking for minerals that they can dig and sell. In 1849 gold and silver was the big draw, today both are byproducts of Copper mining, taken from the earth in amazing small concentrations, leached from the soil by chemicals. Copper is the big dog now, and since it brings jobs, salaries, community development and opportunity to small town Arizona for over a hundred years it has ruled the state. The Army and State Troopers have broken strikes, busted heads, all in the name of Copper Corporations. The famous 1917 Bisbee deportation when 2000 vigilantes rounded over a 1300 strikers, herded them to box cars, loaded them up and dumped them in Hermanas, New Mexico, without money or transportation, told not to return to Bisbee. Today Arizona copper mines are largely self-regulating or watched by the state, the 100 year old Hayden Smelter is locked in debate between state and federal agencies declaring the air pollutions emulating from the mine stacks are outside the federal limits for safe air. The state says those particulates are within limits, however heavy metals like arsenic, lead and sulfur dioxide all have been found in the air and soil surrounding the mining community. Residents filed suit, cancer cluster have been reported and ASARCO have performed extensive testing and has cleaned the soil where warranted. Two homes were bought and condemned, they were downwind of the crusher conveyer belt and several other houses had their topsoil removed down to 18 inches, rocked over and dirt replaced. Residents have received $8-9,000 payment for damages, in retribution from the mine. Not enough say some and others whose homes were downwind but apparently safe, shrug their shoulders when they eye-ball the diagrams and pie charts on paperwork they were given, it must be so they smile.“Old Valley National Bank is now the home to Hayden Police Dept”
Why are some homes so polluted and others not so? One long-time Hayden observer Chris Martinez who was born here then spent 25 years in the Army seeing the world and now has retired to Hayden. Why we wondered? My wife, he says who is also a Hayden girl and besides “I like the quiet”, Martinez says while flashing on the traffic and commotion seen in Asian and European cities and then his quiet life in Hayden. “The smoke and dust bring a lot of environmental concerns”, he says while playing in the park with his grand-daughter, Elda.Town folks who filed law suits against ASARCO–they moved here in the 1970’s says Martinez “I was born here in the 1950’s and it was much worse then”. In those days, he notes the stack was 220′, the present ASARCO stack is over a 1000′ and the old Kennecott stack is 680′, so particulates from the stack showered the community. The ore train, was a steam engine burning coal, blowing heavy black smoke where ever the wind blew as the steam engine circled Hayden. We played in that, we climbed the hills and tracks, constantly down wind. The tailing pile in 1950 was two 30′ tiers, today it has five 30′ tiers and stretches from seven miles and is a mile wide. There was no soil containment in those days, so when the wind blew, here came the tailing. “It was worse then”, says Martinez. His father lived and worked in Hayden mines 42 years, he supervised the tailing piles for twenty years still lived a long cancer free life. Martinez’s Hayden childhood, was typical small town stuff, 25 cents for the town theater, Tuesday night was Mexican movie night, Saturday and Sunday had the afternoon matinee, Hayden had 8-9,000 residents then, two mines-the old ASARCO employed 250-300 and Kennecott employed almost 1200 and was the big dog on the block so when ASARCO bought Kennecott out the city’s caste system was turned upside down. The city had busy ball parks, churches, pool halls and bars. Today, the church is for rent, downtown seldom has a car on it, the Hayden Police Station is in the old Valley National Bank building and beside the Hayden Fire House is the only building in town with a fresh coat of paint.
Contrerras buffs “Black Snow” Spots
Roy Contrerras has “done everything” for mines in the middle Arizona mining communities, he worked for the Christmas Mine, ASARCO, Kennecott. Father and son are polishing Dad’s newly-painted 1957 Chevy, and Roy Sr pauses over a couple spots on the hood he claims are left by acid-rain. “You can’t see it”, he says, but it appears “like black snow” and flakes paint on cars not kept in a garage. Some folks in Hayden paint their vehicle every few years. Contrerras says they received a payment “not enough” from the mine for their polluted soil and the lawn was removed and replaced. Now his lawn and the mine’s tailing across the valley constantly blows through his yard and deposits dust in his home. Still “life gets faster” in the city, says Roy Sr and “I don’t like it.” “I like the quiet here, no ambulances or sirens”. He lost his wife to Mesa, she needed more he says, his 32 year old son Roy Jr, tried living in Mesa a few years and but came home. Roy Jr found a job with a mine contractor on the graveyard shift and has a shiny new truck, a flashy new pickup, which “cost a lot of money” young Roy reports as he leaves for work. “I think I will die right here” says his father, Roy Sr. “If the mines don’t throw us out first”, he adds. Without the mines this town wouldn’t be here he continues. Copper is the only reason this place got going-without the mine-nothing would be here.”
Hayden, Arizona, is 100 miles southeast of Phoenix on State Highway 177, it sits on a hillside beneath the smelter. The entire town covers less than one square mile, and with 365 homes below the confluence of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers. The town built in 1912 to provide housing for Ray open pit mine workers and those working at the copper smelter. The town has a population of 900, and it shares a school district, with Winkleman whose population 600 is located one mile south. The towns share a history with the several smelters and their emissions discharged over the towns since 1909.
Historically emissions contained large quantities of lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter. These contaminants drifted over the entire region and many of these emissions fell out of the atmosphere and settled on the ground. The first air controls placed on the smelters were installed in 1920. These electrostatic filters removed particulate matter from the stack. The smelters had minimal emission control til 1969, when the Clean Air Act of 1970 required controls be installed to limit SO2 emission, controls were added in 1984, to further reduce SO2 emissions. The smelter stack height was designed to elevate the emissions above the valley air shed for optimum dispersion.
In Hayden, 16 of 18 indoor dust samples exceeded the arsenic R-SRL of 10 mg/kg, 14 of 18 indoor dust samples exceeded the copper R-SRL of 3,100 mg/kg, and 8 of 18 samples exceeded the lead R-SRL of 400 mg/kg. All nine attic dust samples collected in Hayden exceeded the R-SRLs for arsenic, copper, and lead.
Regardless of design many residents told the state Public Health workers of “not being able to have a barbeque at night, because going outside makes you sick”. Still in the public Health Assessment of the Hayden community most residents accepted the fact that the smelter produced air pollution, and that by working and living in the area they would be exposed to whatever was being emitted from the smelter. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality maintains a particulate sampler at the Hayden Jail. This collects particulate samples including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc and samples collected over the past several years have shown arsenic and SO2 present in concentrations that exceed limits in air. Water delivered to Hayden and Winkleman contains measurable arsenic. Drinking water obtained from several wells located in the area, show arsenic present in many groundwater aquifers. Urine samples for arsenic were obtained in late 1999, seven children from 6–36 months of age were tested, blood lead concentrations ranged below detectable limits but no cases of lead poisoning in children were found. According to a study by the Arizona Department of Health Services under cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Asarco says it is operating within legal limits and promises to “vigorously” contest the EPA’s claims. The head of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality calls the federal filing an “attempt by the EPA to make it seem as if the state of Arizona has done nothing when, in fact, that is not true.” At the same time the state has been slow to act.
Tucson-based Asarco LLC has received 51 citations for health and safety violations at its Hayden copper concentrator operation, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. The mine-safety agency cited the Asarco plant for 15 “significant and substantial” violations and 36 nonsignificant violations. A significant and substantial violation is defined as one “likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness” under the circumstance of the violation. Significant violations can result in fines of thousands of dollars each, but the citations can be contested before any fines are levied.
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