Phelps Dodge Sierrita Agrees to $1.4 Million Settlement in Air Pollution Case

Phelps Dodge Sierrita Inc. has agreed to pay $1.4 million for allegedly violating the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA estimates that more than 1,000 tons of sulfur dioxide were illegally discharged into the air from the copper mine and ore processing plant near Green Valley, Ariz.

The state of Arizona joined the settlement and will receive $140,000 of the $1.4 million for its claims against the company. Phelps Dodge did respond to a request for comment.

The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for Arizona, alleges that Phelps Dodge operated its ore roasters without required sulfur dioxide monitors and bypassed roaster pollution control equipment on hundreds of occasions in the past decade.

"Not only does this settlement secure real improvements in air quality and public health for the local residents in Green Valley, it also sends a message to corporations who think they can increase their profit margins by ignoring the law and harming the environment in the end they will pay a great deal more," said Thomas L. Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The significant penalty Phelps Dodge Sierrita will have to pay…is much higher than the economic benefit achieved from its non-compliance."

The settlement will result in improvements at the facility that will greatly reduce sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions, said Wayne Nastri, the EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest region. "The enhanced monitoring and reporting requirements will allow the EPA and the public to know whether the ore roasters are complying with the sulfur dioxide limit each and every hour, rather than once a year," he added.

The complaint also alleges that the company operated 15 ore crushers, six ore sifting screens, three ore conveyor belts, and an ore storage bin in violation of Clean Air Act rules. The violations include failure to obtain proper permits, failure to install best available pollution controls, failure to conduct initial tests and install monitors, and failure to record and report data from the monitors.

As part of the settlement, Phelps Dodge has agreed to immediately comply with air pollution limits, obtain appropriate permits, perform air impact analyses, and install required air pollution monitors. In addition, Phelps Dodge has agreed to completely eliminate the possibility of bypassing air pollution control equipment by permanently disconnecting the roaster bypass stack.

Sulfur dioxide emissions can cause injury to both human health and the environment. High concentrations of sulfur dioxide can cause serious health problems, including respiratory illness. Sulfur dioxide pollution causes acid rain, which damages waterways and vegetation, and also causes decreased visibility a problem at many national parks, including the Grand Canyon.

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