GAO Report Sheds Light on Asarco "Misconduct," Reyes Says
by Sito Negron
Posted on November 13, 2007
A GAO report released today found that "Asarco skirted public disclosure requirements that would have been required if Asarco had attempted to acquire permits for its El Paso hazardous waste disposal activities," U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes said in a statement.
The report, in a 24-page letter with attachments dated Nov. 13, 2007, is titled "Information on How DOD and Federal and State Regulators Oversee the Off-Site Disposal of Waste from DOD Installations."
The unwieldy title reflects the purpose of the report, which was informational in nature and not meant to be a policy recommendation. However, the report, requested by U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, drew upon the disposal at the Asarco plant in El Paso of hazardous waste from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and provided the clearest official picture yet of what happened. . [report]
“While the GAO report does not make any new conclusions regarding Asarco's behavior, the report does shed light on Asarco misconduct associated with the company's and its subsidiary Encycle's disposal of hazardous waste from the Rocky Mountain Flats Arsenal," read Reyes' statement. "Above all, the report confirms what many in El Paso and I have been saying, that Asarco has not been committed to the health and well-being of the El Paso community and is not responsible enough to merit a renewal of its permit."
Neither Reyes nor his spokeswoman were available for comment on the statements. One question left hanging is whether the information will lead to other actions, including a reopening at the federal level of the agreement between Asarco and federal officials to close the matter.
At the state level, County Attorney Jose Rodriguez has asked the TCEQ, the state environmental regulatory agency, to review the case and see if any criminal penalties ought to be applied. [npt background]
Asarco officials, who also Tuesday were dealing with media requests for information following a blowup at City Council over a recycling event sponsored by the company, said in a statement that "We’re baffled by Congressman Reyes’ comments and would encourage the public to read the report for themselves. It is mind-boggling that Asarco’s opponents continue to make the same old statements even though the most recent independent report (GAO Report) is contrary to their allegations."
EPA officials could not be reached late Tuesday for comment on the GAO report. However, in a letter attached to the report, the EPA indicated it accepted most of the report's conclusions.
Critics of Asarco say the company cannot be trusted to operate as a good corporate citizens in the future because of its past activities, which included using its Contop smelter to burn hazardous waste shipped from Encycle, an Asarco subsidiary in Corpus Christi.
The issues were raised in a 1999 Consent Decree, a document in which Asarco does not admit to any wrongdoing but agrees to pay fines and take other corrective actions. During its investigation of that and other public records associated with oversight of Asarco, a member of GTLO found a memo that was used by investigators as part of their case against Asarco. ["epa memo adds fuel to asarco fire," october 2006]
The memo stated that Asarco was engaged in "sham recycling," in which it sent product from Encycle to facilities in El Paso and East Helena, Mont. The product was meant to be byproducts that contained enough copper material to make it worthwhile to Asarco to "recycle," but investigators alleged the amount of ore was too negligible to recycle.
The consent decree, which covered Asarco activities in several jurisdictions, called for the company in El Paso to pay $1.85 million to pave streets and for it to take other corrective actions at the smelter. ["hazardous or recyclable epa says asarco burned it," august 2005]
The company has disputed the characterization of its activities as "burning hazardous waste," stating that "no wrongdoing was found" in the final Consent Decree, which involved state and federal investigators.
But, stated Reyes in his news release, "The report makes clear that the hazardous waste disposed of by Asarco originated in the Basin F evaporation pond at Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado. The installation was initially used to manufacture chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, and then later leased to the Shell Chemical Company for the production of agricultural chemicals including pesticides. Basin F was created for the disposal of wastewaters from manufacturing and wastes from demilitarization activity. The pond was in operation for 22 years and was at times filled to its 240 million gallon capacity. When the basin was closed in 1988 it contained 11 million gallons of wastewater contaminated with pesticides and metals such as copper, arsenic, and zinc.
“The report references the Asarco violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which occurred when Asarco failed to manage the military materials as hazardous waste. As outlined in the report, the hazardous waste was shipped to El Paso without a required RCRA hazardous waste manifest, Asarco stored the hazardous waste without a permit, and Asarco disposed of the hazardous waste in its industrial furnace without a permit.
“By misrepresenting its disposal activities at the El Paso smelter as ‘recycling,’ Asarco skirted public disclosure requirements that would have been required if Asarco had attempted to acquire permits for its El Paso hazardous waste disposal activities."
Read the rest of Reyes' statement here. [link]
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