A few days ago, I wrote here about the need for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stand strong in enforcing stronger standards for mercury pollutants.
Today I’m happy to discover that in the case of copper, the EPA has taken tough enforcement action against a copper smelter in Hayden, Arizona, a poor, largely Hispanic community of 900 people with a long history of copper smelting and complaints about toxic emissions.
The unpublicized “finding of violation” issued against the Asarco copper smelter in Hayden claims the company has been continuously emitting illegal amounts of lead, arsenic and eight other dangerous compounds for six years.
State Of Arizona Has Also Failed To Take Action
The finding also suggests that the state of Arizona, which has primary responsibility for federal Clean Air Act enforcement in the state, has failed to take meaningful action. Could being poor and Hispanic have anything to do with that?
The EPA revealed the existence of the November 10 finding to National Public Radio (NPR) and The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) as they were concluding a joint, six-month-long investigation of air pollution and regulation in Hayden.
Asarco And The State Of Arizona Will Fight Back
In a statement to NPR and CPI, Asarco says the EPA’s finding is “unexpected” and promises a vigorous challenge.
“Our smelter is in compliance with its air permit,” writes Tom Aldrich, an Asarco spokesman. “Asarco works closely with its regulators and proactively seeks innovations as science evolves and environmental laws and rules are updated.”
Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, also says that Asarco does not exceed federal emissions standards.
“I think it’s a clear attempt by EPA to make it seem as if the state has done nothing,” Darwin says. His agency is responsible for issuing federal air pollution permits in the state. “We have no reason to believe that [Asarco] has crossed that [pollution] threshold.”
He dismisses the EPA’s action as a “paperwork violation.”
EPA Notified Governor Brewer
But the EPA also notified Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week that Asarco has emitted excessive amounts of lead this year. In a letter provided to NPR and CPI, the EPA says its monitors detected lead at two to three times federal limits on some days during 2011.
The EPA also says its team of environmental forensics investigators spent six months testing and analyzing emissions at Asarco.
Having the EPA take notice of a small, poor, and largely Hispanic town, is important. And having the EPA tell big polluting companies that they will be held accountable for their actions is definitely a victory.
Thank you, EPA, NPR and CPI.
You can watch the disturbing history of copper pollution in Hayden here:
Photo Credit: iStock