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Headframe of an underground mine at the ASARCO Mission Complex near Tucson, Arizona.

ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona, USA, that mines and processes primarily copper. The company is a subsidiary of Grupo México.

Its three largest open-pit mines are the Mission, Silver Bell and the Ray mines in Arizona. Its mines produce 350 to 400 million pounds of copper a year. Asarco conducts solvent extraction and electrowinning at the Ray and Silver Bell mines in Pima County, Arizona and Pinal County, Arizona and a smelter in Hayden, Arizona. Before its smelting plant in El Paso, Texas was suspended in 1999 it was producing 1 billion pounds of anodes each year. Refining at the mines as well as at a copper refinery in Amarillo, Texas produce 375 million pounds of refined copper each year.

Asarco's hourly workers are primarily represented by the United Steelworkers.

Asarco has 20 superfund sites across the United States, and it is subject to considerable litigation over pollution.


ASARCO mine near Garfield, Utah in 1942.

ASARCO was founded in 1899 as the American Smelting and Refining Company by Henry H. Rogers, William Rockefeller, Adolph Lewisohn, Anton Eilers and Leonard Lewisohn. From 1901-1958, American Smelting and Refining was a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

In 1901 Meyer Guggenheim and his sons took over the company.

On January 11, 1916, sixteen Asarco employees were killed and mutilated by Pancho Villa's men near the town of Santa Isabel, Chihuahua. It was one of the incidents that sparked the Mexican Expedition, a United States Army attempt to capture or kill Villa.

In 1975 it officially changed its name to Asarco Incorporated. In 1999 it was acquired by Grupo México, which itself began as Asarco's 49%-owned Mexican subsidiary in 1965, and on August 9, 2005, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Corpus Christi,[1] Texas under then-president Daniel Tellechea.

Pollution and environmental issues[edit]

These tall smokestacks at Asarco's El Paso Smeltertown site were brought down in 2013.

Asarco has been found responsible for environmental pollution at 20 Superfund sites across the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those sites are:

  1. Interstate Lead Company, or ILCO, labeled EPA Site ALD041906173, and located in Leeds, Jefferson County, Alabama[2]
  2. Argo Smelter, Omaha & Grant Smelter, labeled EPA Site COD002259588, and located at Vasquez Boulevard and I-70 in Denver, Colorado[3]
  3. Smeltertown, a copper smelter used to illegally dispose of hazardous waste, in El Paso, El Paso County, Texas. The plant has since been dismantled.[4]
  4. California Gulch mine and river systems in Leadville, Colorado;
  5. Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc. (SCMCI), now bankrupt, EPA Site COD983778432, in Del Norte, Rio Grande County, Colorado;
  6. ASARCO Globe Plant, EPA Site COD007063530, Globeville, near South Platte River, Denver and Adams County, Colorado;
  7. Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical, Coeur d'Alene River Basin, Idaho;
  8. Kin-Buc Landfill in New Jersey;
  9. Tar Creek (Ottawa County) lead and zinc operations and surrounding residences in Oklahoma;
  10. Commencement Bay, Near Shore/Tide Flats smelter, groundwater, and residences in Tacoma and Ruston, Washington.

Litigation history[edit]

Asarco mine in Silver Reef, Utah

After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued Asarco for damages to natural resources in 1983, the EPA placed the Asarco Globe Plant on its National Priorities List, with Asarco to pay for the site's cleanup.[5]

Asarco consolidated several plants at the corner of 5th & Douglas Streets in Downtown Omaha on April 4, 1889. Within 25 years it was the largest lead refinery in the world. In 1972 the plant was found to be releasing high amounts of lead into the air and ground surrounding the plant. In 1995 Asarco submitted a demolition and site cleanup plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for their impact on the local residential area. Fined $3.6 million in 1996 for discharging lead and other pollutants into the Missouri River, Omaha's Asarco plant was closed in July, 1997.[6] After extensive site cleanup, the land was turned over to the City of Omaha as a 23-acre (93,000 m2) park. All of East Omaha, comprising more than 8,000 acres (32 km²), was declared a Superfund site, and as of 2003, 290 acres (1.2 km²) had been cleaned.[7]

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of soil and air tests in Hayden, Arizona taken adjacent to the ASARCO Hayden Smelter. The results showed abnormally high amounts of pollutants that violate prescribed health standards. Arsenic, lead and copper were among the most egregious pollutants found in Hayden. As a consequence of the contamination, the EPA proposed to add Hayden, Arizona to the list of Federal "Superfund" sites. This action would provide funding to clean up the contamination. Asarco is presently fighting this action, supported by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who said: "I am asking that the EPA delay final decision on listing until March 31, 2008. This would provide ample time for the EPA, in close coordination with ADEQ,[8] to enter an agreement with Asarco to conduct remedial actions..."[citation needed]


At least one site that Asarco has worked and contaminated was featured in documentary form. Tar Creek was made by Matt Myers in 2009 about the Tar Creek Superfund site. At one time, Tar Creek was considered to be the worst environmental problem on the list of more than 1200 sites.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]