Sat, Feb

EPA Fines Phoenix-Based Copper Mining Firm for Emissions Report Errors

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Asarco Inc. $80,000 for errors the company made in reporting emissions at its copper smelter in Hayden.

Dec. 23—The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Asarco Inc. $80,000 for errors the company made in reporting emissions at its copper smelter in Hayden.

The inaccuracies on chemical releases filed in 1998 and 1999 constitute violations of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman for the EPA's regional office in San Francisco.

The company failed to accurately report levels of manganese released in 1998 and 1999, and for chromium, nickel compounds, cadmium compounds and lead compounds released in 1998, Fasano said.

The fine stems not from the amounts released, but for a failure to submit complete and correct information on the emission levels in the inventory-reporting forms, Fasano said.

"This inventory is a resource that allows the community to access information and know what hazardous chemicals are being stored and released," she said. "This data is put out annually, and we want to put out the most accurate information we can on what is being put out in the environment, so that's what the fine is about."

The fine was the result of an investigation conducted by the National Enforcement Investigations Center, a division of the EPA, said Estrella Armijo, a Toxic Release Inventory program officer for EPA.

"We had a community group call us with concerns about the validity of the company's report and that led to the investigation in 2001," Armijo said. "It took them a while to get through all these calculations and then go and see what errors were significant."

Fasano said the amount of the fine charged to Asarco was "significant, but not anomalous." "Fines for failure to report or for inaccurate reporting depend on the severity of the case, how long it takes to correct, and other things, and for that reason, they're all over the map," she said.

Asarco has since corrected the information on the reports, Armijo said.

Asarco, based in Phoenix, is a copper-mining subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, which bought the company in 1999.

In January 2003, Grupo Mexico struck a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that allowed the company to split off an Asarco subsidiary, Southern Peru Copper Corp., in exchange for setting up a $100 million trust fund to cover some of Asarco's environmental liabilities.

The EPA filed its complaint against Asarco on Sept. 30 and announced Friday that the company would pay the fine, Armijo said. Asarco representatives in Phoenix referred comments on the fine to a company official in Mexico who did not return phone calls.

Each year, the EPA publishes a report titled the Toxic Release Inventory Public Data Release. The agency's environmental data are available online at www.epa.gov/enviro

To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

© 2004, The Arizona Daily Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.