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Century-Old Smelter to Pay $13.5M For Polluting the Air

(CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday ordered a 103-year-old copper smelter in Arizona to cut toxic emissions and pay $13.5 million in fines and green-project funding.

As part of its settlement with the EPA, ASARCO agreed to spend $150 million to install new equipment and pollution control technology to reduce toxic emissions at its century-old smelter in Hayden, Arizona. The company will also fund local environmental projects to the tune of $8 million, spend $1 million to replace a diesel locomotive with a cleaner model and pay a $4.5 million civil penalty.

An EPA investigation found ASARCO violated the Clean Air Act by failing to control hazardous air pollutants like arsenic and lead spewing from the Hayden smelter. The agency also the wind blows dust laden with heavy metals from the facility, which the company also agreed to address.

ASARCO will install new ventilation hoods to capture hot flue gases from its furnaces and operate several ambient air monitors in and around Hayden to track levels of pollutants, according to the Justice Department.

Long-term inhalation exposure to inorganic arsenic is 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 and fine particles, can cause coughing or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease. And the sulfur dioxide produced by the smelter has been linked to a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system.

"The communities living near this century-old smelter will breathe cleaner air as a result of this landmark enforcement action," EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld said. "As one of only three major copper smelters in the nation, it is critically important that the facility operate in a way that complies with federal law, minimizes harmful pollutants and safeguards public health and the environment."

Built in 1912, ASARCO's Hayden smelter produces 300 to 400 million pounds of copper and over 500,000 tons of sulfuric acid annually.

ASARCO is owned by Grupo Mexico, which also owns Mexican railroad giant Ferromex. The company is the fourth-largest copper producer in the world.

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