AZ Copper Smelter Must Cut Emissions

Thursday, November 5, 2015 @ 03:11 PM gHale

ASARCO reached a settlement with the Feds that requires the company to spend $150 million to install new equipment and pollution control technology to reduce emissions of toxic heavy metals at a large copper smelter in Hayden, AZ.

The company will also fund local environmental projects valued at $8 million, replace a diesel locomotive with a cleaner model for $1 million, and pay a $4.5 million civil penalty.

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The federal enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) targeted hazardous air pollutants, including lead and arsenic, in particulate matter (PM).

With the controls in place, the hazardous air pollutants should end up reduced by at least 8.5 tons per year, and PM emissions should go down by 3,500 tons per year. The new equipment and controls will slash the facility’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 19,000 tons per year, a reduction of more than 90 percent, according to EPA estimates. Currently, the ASARCO smelter is the largest source of SO2 emissions in Arizona.

“Big enforcement actions like this result in big returns for American communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The upgraded pollution controls and advanced monitoring technologies ASARCO will install are key to a modern compliance program that cuts pollution around industrial plants.”

“This settlement will bring tremendous benefits to public health and the environment in Arizona for generations to come through dramatic cuts to harmful air emissions,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the DoJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The requirements of this consent decree will not only bring ASARCO into compliance with the nation’s clean air law, but will also result in testing for lead contamination in area homes, and improvements to nearby roads to further improve air quality.”

EPA’s investigation found the company violated federal Clean Air Act standards by failing to adequately control emissions of hazardous air pollutants, such as arsenic and lead, from the Hayden smelter.

Under the settlement, ASARCO will install new and upgraded ventilation hoods to capture hot flue gases from its furnaces to better capture the PM, which includes the hazardous air pollutants, and SO2. The company will also replace an aging electrostatic precipitator with a new, cleaner baghouse and inject high performance lime to reduce SO2 emissions.

To reduce wind-blown dust from the facility, which contains varying levels of heavy metals, the company will implement an improved dust control plan, including the use of wind fences, upgraded water sprayers and the installation of concrete pads. In addition, ASARCO will operate five ambient air monitors in and around the Hayden and Winkelman communities to track levels of pollutants, including arsenic, lead and PM, and will make additional improvements to dust controls if levels are high.

Long-term inhalation exposure to inorganic arsenic becomes associated with irritation of the skin and can affect the brain and nervous system. Exposure to lead can cause effects on the blood, as well as the nervous, immune, renal, and cardiovascular systems. Particulate matter, especially inhalable coarse particles (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5), can cause coughing or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Built in 1912 and expanded over the years, the ASARCO Hayden site is a copper ore processing, concentrating and smelter facility located adjacent to Hayden and Winkelman. The ASARCO plant includes a crusher, concentrator, smelter and tailings impoundment areas and produces 300 to 400 million pounds of copper and over half a million tons of sulfuric acid annually. ASARCO is owned by Grupo México, a Mexican consortium that owns Ferromex, the largest railroad in Mexico, and operates mines and smelters, including the one in Hayden, that make it the fourth largest copper producer in the world.