Contact Us


All News Releases By Date



Release Date: 04/15/99
Contact Information:

APRIL 15, 1999

Mining and Smelting Company To Spend $15M on Environmental Actions
ASARCO, Inc. will spend an estimated $15 million on several environmental actions under a landmark decree filed today, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) announced. The agreement also requires the mining and smelting company to pay a $5.5 million penalty to settle claims that it violated federal hazardous waste and clean water laws in Texas, Tennessee and Montana.
This nationwide, two-part settlement represents the first time that the federal government has entered into a consolidated agreement resolving violations of different environmental laws at more than one of a company’s facilities. Last year, in Phase I of the settlement, ASARCO agreed to spend more than $50 million to clean up contamination and correct alleged violations at facilities in Montana and Arizona. Phase II of the settlement, filed today in the U.S. District Court in Houston, marks the final chapter of the settlement.

“This settlement and others like it mark a new generation of environmental enforcement,” said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are serious about addressing comprehensively those nationwide companies that violate our environmental laws.”

“This comprehensive approach to resolve a company’s environmental liabilities is a fundamentally new way to protect public health and the environment,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Steven A. Herman. “It is unprecedented and should serve as a model for other companies in addressing their environmental problems.”

Today’s agreement obligates ASARCO to revamp a Corpus Christi, TX, recycling facility. The EPA and TNRCC alleged that Encycle/Texas, Inc., ASARCO’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Corpus Christi, violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at the facility by failing to properly manage hazardous waste and otherwise engaging in unlawful recycling practices. ASARCO’s East Helena, MT, lead smelter and El Paso, TX, copper smelter allegedly accepted shipments of unmanifested hazardous waste from Encycle/Texas in violation of RCRA.

Under the agreement, ASARCO will implement site-wide corrective action at the Encycle/Texas plant and will undertake a project expected to prevent the burial of more than half a million pounds of potentially cancer-causing and toxic material each year in hazardous waste landfills. ASARCO also will implement an innovative new technology, electrowinning, to fully reclaim metals from waste brought to the facility. In addition, the company will clean up and dedicate to the public a 30-acre conservation area in Corpus Christi. This property will include trails, an environmental education area, and a permanent site for an air monitoring station.

“We believe this is an appropriate conclusion to this effort,” said TNRCC Executive Director Jeff Saitas. “Contaminated areas will be cleaned up, unique and innovative technical requirements will keep Encycle in compliance, and we will keep open one of very few facilities that recycle metals from plating operations. This is a very good deal for Texas.” In addition:

• ASARCO has agreed to spend $1.8 million to pave roads, alleys and parking lots in a dust-control project in El Paso, TX, where the company operates a smelter. Particulates such as dust are known to exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma and emphysema and are a significant problem in the El Paso air basin. In addition, ASARCO is obliged to recycle at least 1,200 tons of scrap tires a year when it operates its El Paso smelter, substituting shredded tires for coke to fuel the smelter’s furnace and avoiding disposal of them in landfills.

• In Tennessee, ASARCO will restore diverse native riparian and wetland vegetation in a flood plain along Mossy Creek to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations at ASARCO’s Coy Mines near Jefferson City, TN.

In Phase I of the settlement last year, ASARCO agreed to implement a court-enforced environmental management system to improve environmental compliance at all of its 33 facilities in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The states of Texas and Arizona participated as co-plaintiffs in the overall agreement. Another commitment of ASARCO is to enhance its environmental management and compliance auditing program involving all of its operating facilities nationwide. Including today’s penalty, the company will pay a total of $11.8 million in civil penalties under the two-part settlement.

The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period and is subject to Court approval.

A fact sheet outlining the specifics of the two-part ASARCO Inc. settlement accompanies this release.

R-38 ###

On April 15, 1999, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the final phase an historic two-part settlement with ASARCO, Inc., for alleged violations of the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its mining and smelter facilities in Arizona, Montana, Tennessee and Texas.

The overall agreement marks the first time the federal government has entered into a consolidated settlement that resolves violations of different environmental statutes at more than one of a company’s facilities. ASARCO will establish a court-enforced environmental management system nationwide within the company’s facilities in seven states and will include training nearly 6,000 employees in environmental compliance.

In total, the settlement will benefit public health and the environment by reducing pollution releases of certain heavy metals such as mercury and lead, which can be toxic to both humans and wildlife. The settlement also establishes environmentally significant projects for the benefit of local communities that may have been affected.

Phase I

Background: On January 23, 1998, a settlement was filed in U.S. District Courts of Montana and Arizona to resolve alleged RCRA and CWA violations at ASARCO’s lead smelter facility in East Helena, Mont., and alleged CWA violations at ASARCO’s copper mine/smelter complex in Hayden, Ariz. Under the two consent decrees, which comprised that settlement, ASARCO will:

• Pay $6.38 million in penalties ($1.5 million went to the state of Arizona, as co-plaintiff).

• Spend more than $50 million to reduce releases to ground and surface waters of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.

• Clean up environmental impacts at its Montana operation resulting from 100 years of smelting activities.
      •Carry out extensive work to control discharges from its 6,100-acre Ray Mine open-pit copper mine and ore-processing facility near Hayden, Ariz. The agreement is resulting in restoration of the water quality in Mineral Creek and protecting the downstream fisheries in the Gila River.

• Establish a federally-supervised environmental management system at all operating facilities. The environmental management system includes annual reporting to EPA of any hazardous waste spills, permit exceedances, toxic and pollutant releases, and reporting on recycling programs, and water and energy use. Nearly 6,000 ASARCO employees are being trained in environmental compliance.

• Properly screen the types of materials used in its smelters nationwide.

• Restore diverse, native riparian and upland vegetation along the shoreline of what was once a wastewater process pond at its East Helena, Mont., lead smelter.

In addition, the settlement provided a framework for permitting ASARCO’s water discharges at the Arizona facility and for implementing the Aquifer Protection Plan required by the state of Arizona.

Phase II

Background: Phase II to the national settlement announced April 15, 1999, resolves additional alleged RCRA violations at ASARCO’s subsidiary Encycle/Texas, Inc., and at the company’s El Paso, Texas and East Helena, Mont., smelters, as well as additional alleged CWA violations at ASARCO’s five zinc mines and two ore mills in Tennessee. Phase II of the settlement further includes enhancements to ASARCO’s environmental auditing program, including a third-party review. Under this consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, ASARCO has agreed to:
    • Pay a $5.5 million civil penalty ($2 million will go to the state of Texas, as co-plaintiff).
    • Operate Encycle/Texas, Inc., as a permitted, lawful recycling facility.
    • Perform a metals recycling project at Encycle/Texas, Inc. in which 522,000 lbs. of nickel, copper, chrome or tin, having the potential to be carcinogenic or toxic to humans and wildlife, will be recovered annually for five years with a projected environmental benefit value of $6.48 million.
• Clean up any contaminated areas at its El Paso and Corpus Christi, Texas, facilities.

• Upgrade and maintain a 30-acre public conservation area in Corpus Christi, Texas. Conservation area will include trails, an environmental education area and a site for a state of Texas air monitoring station. The property is valued at $1 million.

• Spend at least $1.5 million for off-site paving projects in El Paso, where particulates are a major problem. Particulates, including dust, are a significant air pollution problem in the El Paso air basin and are known to affect breathing and respiratory systems, causing increased respiratory disease and lung damage. Children, the elderly and people suffering from hear or lung diseases (such as asthma) are especially at risk.

• Recycle 1,200 tons annually of shredded tires when the El Paso smelter is operational, for the next five years.

• Spend up to $260,000 to restore a wetland at ASARCO’s Coy Mines, near Knoxville, Tenn.

• Implement auditing of its environmental management system, including verification by independent auditors.