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EPA fines Asarco for hazardous dust at Arizona smelter

EPA fines Asarco for hazardous dust at Arizona smelter

Emissions of hazardous air pollutants from Asarco’s Hayden smelter, about 70 miles north of Tucson, led to an EPA dust control plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency fined copper mining giant Asarco $33,000 this week for failing to live up to a federally mandated dust control plan.

The plan was aimed at reducing emissions of lead, coarse dust and other hazardous air pollutants from its Hayden smelter about 70 miles north of Tucson.

That plan was central to a 2015 settlement reached between the EPA and Tucson-based Asarco that resolved a long list of federal Clean Air Act violations, the agency said.

The releases were of “fugitive” dust, which is released to the air due to mechanical disturbance of soil, and isn’t discharged in a confined stream.

“Controlling fugitive dust is critical to minimizing hazardous air pollutants in nearby communities,” said Amy Miller, EPA Pacific Southwest director of enforcement and compliance assurance, in announcing the fine. “EPA will continue holding companies accountable for complying with the terms of settlements reached with the agency.”

Asarco spokeswoman Amy Veek didn’t return a phone call or an email from the Star seeking comment on the fine.

Under the 2015 settlement, Asarco is required to operate water sprayer systems at various sites to reduce fugitive dust emissions. After reviewing the company’s records, EPA identified 33 days during which water was not sprayed on certain dust sources as required, the agency said.

Under the 2015 settlement, Asarco is liable for $1,000 each day the water sprayers were not operating, resulting in $33,000 in stipulated penalties, EPA said.

The dust comes from 17 sources, the regulators said, including rock crushers; operations involving storage, handling and unloading of copper concentrate; paved and unpaved roads; and tailings storage facilities.

The 2015 settlement called on Asarco to spend $150 million on pollution control equipment upgrades to meet federal clean air rules.

Just last month, a University of Arizona professor of atmospheric sciences, Eric Betterton, credited that agreement, as a report showed the smelter reduced its total releases of toxic materials by 70% in 2018 compared to 2017. At the same time, numerous other Arizona mines and the state’s only other smelter, Freeport-McMoRan Inc.’s in Miami, reported significant increases in releases.

Even with the reduction in releases, the Hayden smelter still ranked 5th among 263 Arizona industrial firms reporting releases of toxic materials in 2018, the EPA’s annual Toxics Release Inventory report for that year shows.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@tucson.com or 806-7746. On Twitter@tonydavis987

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