Copper Fist

The Toxic Release Inventory tracks releases to the air, land and water of a certain list of chemicals and compounds that are of concern due to the ability of these chemicals and compounds to have a long-term harmful effect upon the environment and public health. Smelters are considered to be on the top of the list of facilities that "release" to the environment. Most of the smelters' TRI releases, however, are releases to the land, from slag dumping. And smelters also release large quantities of metals and acids into the air from stacks (listed on the TRI as stack emissions) and as "fugitive emissions" from the processes at the smelter, from crushing ore to slag dumping. There is a controversy about how accurately smelters are reporting their fugitive emissions from the slag dumping, acid plant, and other smelting processes.

Smelter operators complain that they are listed artificially high on the list of releasers because of the amounts of compounds "released" as slag. They contend that the slag solidifies into rock, just like lava cools into rock, and after that time, whatever has been released to the land is inert and harmless to the environment. The slag is like red-hot metal waste, a lava skimmed from the copper melting kettles. Smelters melt enormous quantities of crushed ores and discard the vast majority of what is melted as molten slag, trying to keep only the copper. The enormous amounts of slag are skimmed off and dumped about every 15-20 minutes, 24 hours a day, almost every day. This slag is being dumped over a veritable mountain of previously dumped slag, and dumped over the side of a steep hill adjacent to the Hayden-Winkelman Schools. There is no environmental law against dumping this slag so close to a school.

The night-time pictures help demonstrate the enormous amounts of smoke that explode out of the dumped slag. This smoke certainly must contain lead, copper, arsenic, and sulfuric acid (a by-product of the smelting process) because the feedstock for the smelter contains these chemicals and compounds.

The amount of smoke from the slag dumping is enormously more than the amount that wisps out of the smelter smokestack, which itself is one of the tallest stacks in the world (1000 feet). Many residents of the town doubt that the TRI reports from ASARCO are entirely accurate. In some years for example, ASARCO has reported around 125,000 pounds of lead releases to the air. In other years, only 25,000 pounds of lead have been reported being released to the air. Yet the smelter operations appear to be the same.

HAYDEN, AZ 85235

A machine that looks like a tractor carrying a large teacup moves from the copper kettle towards the edge of the slag heap (hill).

The teacup is tipped...

and the slag hits the ground, beginning to spread...and smoke..

the slag sloshes over the crest of the hill, looking like lava flowing down a volcano.

the smoke billows several stories into the air as the molten slag moves down the slag heap

the heat from the slag is immense hundreds of yards away, and bare skin feels pin pricks as sulfuric acid drops fall out of the sky

the smoking lasts well past the time the molten slag cools and grows dark.



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