Sunday’s Arizona Daily Star reports on the increased toxic releases coming from Arizona’s mines. If the proposed Rosemont copper mine goes into production, Pima County will become even more impacted by the release of toxic chemicals and metals into the environment.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Toxic Release Inventory report, Pima County is currently the fourth most impacted county in the state with 4.6 million pounds of toxic materials released each year.
Gila County, in central Arizona, which is home to several major copper mines and the state’s only copper smelter in Hayden, leads the state with 66.2 million pounds of toxic releases.
Apache County, in northeastern Arizona, is next with 7.3 million pounds of hazardous air pollutants released by two coal-fired, electric generating stations.
Greenlee County is third at 4.8 million pounds of toxins, all of which are released by Freeport-MacMoran’s massive open pit copper mine in Morenci. The Morenci mine is the largest copper mine in the United States, producing about 390 thousand metric tons of copper concentrate annually.
As noted in Sunday’s Arizona Daily Star article, the annual TRI report collects information on certain toxic chemical releases to the air, water and land, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities by facilities across the country.
More than 90 percent of Pima County’s toxic releases come from two copper mines: Freeport-McMoran’s Sierrita Mine in Green Valley and Asarco’s Mission Mine in Sahuarita.
Sierrita is the nation’s sixth largest copper mine producing about 100,000 metric tons of copper concentrate a year. The mine released 2.4 million pounds of toxins in 2011, according to the EPA’s report.
The Mission Mine is America’s ninth largest copper mine producing about 70,000 metric tons of copper concentrate annually. The Mission mine reported releasing 1.9 million pounds toxins.
There is no direct comparison between the toxins included in the TRI and the projected pollutants in Rosemont’s environmental studies released to date because of differences in measuring and classifying the pollutants.
However, notwithstanding Rosemont’s aggressive PR claims that they will be a “21st century mine” this mine would significantly contribute to the release of toxic substances in Pima County and southern Arizona.
Using their own projected output estimates of 120,000 metric tons, Rosemont will be one of the largest copper mines in the U.S. As a result, it could produce at least as many toxins as the 2.4 million pounds released by the smaller Sierrita mine and somewhat less than the 3.9 million pounds released by Pinal County’s Ray Mine, which is the nation’s third largest mine with 170,000 metric tons of copper produced annually.
If Rosemont generates 2.4 million pounds of toxic releases, Pima County’s output will rise to 7 million pounds of releases each year and rank as Arizona’s third most impacted county by toxic releases.
Pima County could jump ahead of Apache County’s 7.3 million pounds if Rosemont’s toxic releases hit 2.7 million pounds – which is not an unreasonable expectation given the size of the mine.
The proposed Rosemont mine is controlled by Augusta Resource Corporation, a Vancouver, B.C. speculative mining company. Augusta owns the Rosemont Copper Company, which is seeking permits from state and federal agencies to construct a mile-wide, half-mile deep, open pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
The Rosemont mine would dump waste rock and mine tailings on more than 3,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest. The 70-story high waste dumps will obliterate streams, canyons, springs and critical habitat for 10 endangered species, including the jaguar. A male jaguar has been repeatedly photographed in the last year by monitoring cameras that the Coronado National Forest chief said are “pretty darned close” to the Rosemont mine site.