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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Radioactivity found in the Copper Belt

"V. Enhanced pollution due to technological processing. Waste elements that are put into the waste heaps release toxins into the environment, in an affect called “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials” (TENORM) by Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, when you bring toxic metals, which are buried in the ground with no potential to harm human health, to the surface, put them in waste dumps exposed to the air, and subject them to various technological processes, there is a potential for adverse affects on human health. This is particularly true in Arizona where there are abundant deposits of radioactive metals and poisonous arsenic. In 1999, Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D. C. published a report on this uranium and radioactive chemicals in the “Copper Belt” of Southern Arizona. Following is an excerpt from that report:

Nearly all rocks, soils, thorium, radium, radioisotopes,naturally occurring radioactive purposefully or inadvertently technologically enhanced naturally as any naturally occurring human exposure has been activities (NAS, 1999). . . .

Levels in excess of the federal MCLs and state guidelines were found in groundwater and surface water samples, as well as soil and sediment samples at abandoned and active copper mines. TENORM exceedences were also found in groundwater at active and inactive copper mines. Uranium byproducts were recovered from heap leach dumps and in-situ operations that feed SX-EW and ion exchange circuits at several copper mines. Radioactivity was discovered in copper mineral processing waste streams. Elevated levels of radioactivity were also found to occur in the process solutions and process wastes."

For entire report, see:

TENORM waste

"Only a crude estimate can be made of the annual total 226Ra activity transferred from oil reservoirs to the surface. A United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) study of 10 oil production wells analysed scale and sludge production rates. (11) The amount estimated was about 250m3 for a period of 20 years. The resulting amount of waste generated by one oil-producing well per year is about 2.25 tons, using a waste density of 1.8 tonnes.m-3. In order to derive an average 226Ra activity concentration, the same study used results of a large number of external gamma readings (6,274) taken in several oil production facilities and converted these to the activity concentration. There is a significant uncertainty attached to such a procedure because of the effects of equipment wall thickness, self-absorption of the radiation in the scale and thickness of the scale, and distribution of radium within the scale. The published average radium concentration was 4.6Bqg-1. Hence, the resulting estimate of total 226Ra activity brought to the surface is 918GBq per year. Similar studies are due to be undertaken in oil and gas-extracting facilities in other parts of the world, so an average 226Ra activity brought to the surface per year can be derived with any degree of certainty."

TENORM waste from metals used in pipelines (gas)

"TENORM [technologically enhanced/concentrated naturally occurring radioactive material] contamination levels in equipment varied widely among types of equipment and geographic region. The geographic areas with the highest equipment readings were northern Texas and the gulf coast crescent from southern Louisiana and Mississippi to the Florida panhandle. Very low levels of TENORM were found in California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and northern Kansas.

According to an API industry-wide survey, approximately 64 percent of the gas producing equipment and 57 percent of the oil production equipment showed radioactivity at or near background levels. TENORM radioactivity levels tend to be highest in water handling equipment. Average exposure levels for this equipment were between 30 to 40 micro Roentgens per hour (μR/hr), which is about 5 times background. Gas processing equipment with the highest levels include the reflux pumps, propane pumps and tanks, other pumps, and product lines. Average radiation levels for this equipment as between 30 to 70 μR/hr. Exposures from some oil production and gas processing equipment exceeded 1 mR/hr.

Gas plant processing equipment is generally contaminated on the surface by lead-210 (Pb-210). However, TENORM may also accumulate in gas plant equipment from radon (Rn-222) gas decay. Radon gas is highly mobile. It originates in underground formations and dissolves in the organic petroleum areas of the gas plant. It concentrates mainly in the more volatile propane and ethane fractions of the gas.

Gas plant scales differ from oil production scales, typically consisting of radon decay products which accumulate on the interior surfaces of plant equipment. Radon itself decays quickly, (its half-life is 3.8 days). As a result, the only radionuclides that affect disposal are the radon decay products polonium-210 (Po-210) and lead-210. Polonium-210 is an alpha emitter with a half-life of 140 days. Pb-210 is a weak beta and gamma emitter with a half-life of 22 years.

Disposal and Reuse: Past Practices:  Recycling of Metals
Before the accumulation of TENORM in oil production equipment was recognized, contaminated materials were occasionally recycled for use in making steel products....

Disposal and Reuse:  Current Practices -Recycling of Metals:

Now that the petroleum industry is aware of the potential for contamination, they take a number of precautions before recycling:

Loads of scrap metal are surveyed for hidden radioactive sources and TENORM.
Piping and equipment are cleaned before release for recycling at smelters.
Pollution control devices, such as filters and bubblers, are installed in smelter stacks to reduce airborne radiation releases.
Although much of the NORM-contaminated equipment is presently stored in controlled areas, some companies are now cleaning the equipment and proposing to store it at designated disposal sites.

Asarco a Defense Contractor in 2003 ...

FY 2003 DoD Contractors [PAGE] 32


Copper Ore containing Uranium dumped into Congo River: Officials arrested for the dumping of Toxic Waste

"At least seven people are said to be under arrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after radioactive mineral waste was poured into a river in the southeast of the country. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar that teams are currently working to rid the river of the waste.
Didace Pembe, Congo's environment minister, says the official who ordered the toxic waste to be dumped has been arrested.
According to local reporter Eddy Isango, seven people from the commission in charge of disposing the minerals are also under arrest.
On Wednesday, the government ordered an inquiry after officials in the southeast province of Katanga said tons of radioactive minerals had been dumped into Mura River, a source of drinking water for the nearby mining town Likasi. The town has a population of around 300,000.
Pembe says the waste has radiation levels 50 times more than the legal standard for safety.
He says the population is being informed through local radio and TV channels not to use the water for drinking, bathing, or for gardening.
He adds that clean up at the site has begun.
Congolese authorities had originally ordered the nearly twenty tons of copper ore containing uranium samples to be dumped in an abandoned uranium mine.
But Pembe says the majority of the toxic minerals were dumped in the river instead.  He says officials are tracing some waste that might have been dumped elsewhere.
Most of the copper ore belongs to the Chinese firm Magma-Lubumbashi.  The environment minister says the company did not request the waste to be dumped in the river."

[Fwd: Letter to the Editor]

[the 11-11 to 11-17 EPinc is on the stands, and they never published my letter in reply to their incorrect release of GAO stuff (or replied), so here goes...]

Dear El Paso Inc. Editor:
In the November 4-10 Issue of your paper, Mike Mrkvicka wrote that "Feds find Asarco clean on hazmat charges". When queried, your office refused to release the 42-page GAO report that your reporter, Mike, claims to have obtained.

Since that unreleasable-report is Mike's basis for reducing my credibility (and the credibility of the EPA and Federal Dept. of Justice people who authored the 73 page 1998 Secret-Asarco-Settlement-Document that we released last October 2006) in your newspaper, I decided to phone the people at the GAO in charge of the investigation at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment and read the report for myself: I talked with the Chief Operating Officer's office and also the Director in charge of all the different Departments. They haven't finished any report yet. They did send a draft to the DOD and the EPA asking for comments on whether the content was true or not. They told me that your article was not correct because of this; and that also the report will not be an investigative report but simply a process-review of the handling of these military materials. They said that they will have to release their final report earlier than they intended to, so that people can read the actual findings directly from the GAO.

Since your paper often releases very good information, I can only assume that you were given this media piece by some folks representing Asarco's interests, and that you trusted them. But, it appears that your paper and our community, including Asarco, needs to wait until the final report is actually issued to read what is actually said. Even then, we need to realize that the GAO is not investigating the smelter's burning of toxic waste, but instead is looking at the military process of handling wastes.

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Poem

The air is fragile like dried leaves
the oxygen scatters
broken by the dust
They don't tell us the poisons
falling settling gently into place
on our mountains
for the next rain
flowing with the water
faster pouring raging down the arroyos
the roads
the rooftops
into our river
A glass poised beneath the faucet
is a great water filter
is the grasshopper singing in the wind
while ants
gather the hazmat
and carry it into our bones
the survivors
left to fight over the few hundred jobs
the money
the power
a poisoned people provide

do you live in the Paso del Norte
do you live
in denial?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

estimates of how much NORM waste will be produced the next 20 years...

"Radionuclides are known to be associated with organic materials in nature; therefore, oil, gas, and oil field brines frequently contain radioactive materials. These materials accumulate in piping used to remove and process petroleum and natural gas. The EPA estimates that about 8 million metric tons of NORM waste will be produced by the gas and oil industry over the next 20 years.
NORM have been found in geothermal wells. According to EPA estimates, the geothermal industry may generate up to 1.4 million metric tons over the next 20 years. ..... The EPA estimates that over 6 million metric tons of drinking water purification materials containing NORM will be generated over the next 20 years."

NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive materials - generally concentrated in mechanical processes)  could include:  isotopes of uranium, thorium, carbon, potassium, polonium, lead, radon

Please show support- Weather Network is proposing an Environment Network

".... the parent company of The Weather
 Network has submitted an application for a new TV channel, The Environment
 Network.  This channel will broadcast environmentally related content
 exclusively, 24 hours a day.

 In order to help push this application through, letters of support need to
 be sent to the CRTC by November 15, 07.

 Details regarding the letter can be found at Thanks Jed Goldberg President Earth Day Canada 111 Peter Street Suite 503 Toronto  ON  M5V 2H1 v - +416.599.1991 ext 111 f -  +416.599.3100 The word mark "Earth Day" and the Earth Day logo are registered trademarks of Earth Day Canada (1991) Inc. Charitable registration # 13195 1378RR0001. Use of either of these trademarks for mercantile, promotional and communications purposes is strictly forbidden without the written approval of Earth Day Canada."

Sierra Club sues ASARCO through EarthJustice....

"Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Environmental Groups to Sue EPA Over Mine Cleanup
An environmental group (**) is planning to sue the federal government over billions of dollars in cleanup costs at polluted mines. Earhjustice says it is filing a notice to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit is being filed on behalf of four conservation groups. The idea is to make it harder for mining companies and other industries to avoid costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy. Earthjustice says Asarco is the most far-reaching example of irresponsible mining operations. Asarco declared bankruptcy in 2005, leaving behind 94 Superfund sites in 21 states, with a total cleanup cost estimated at more than $1 billion. That’s far more than the $100 million trust the company set aside for cleanup. Last week the US House approved the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act. Among other things, the bill requires mines to post a bond to cover future cleanup costs before receiving a permit to mine on public lands. Arizona’s House delagation split on the measure. Republicans opposed it and Democrats backed it."

"November 6, 2007

Washington, DC -- Conservation groups are taking action to make it harder for mining and other polluting industries to skip out on costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice announced today it is representing community groups in Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, and Idaho in a lawsuit to prevent future problems in areas riddled with toxic mine sites."
Lisa Gollin Evans
Marblehead, MA 01945

Sierra Club
San Francisco, California 941 05
Contact: Ed Hopkins, Director of the Environmental Quality Program,

Ainigos Bravos
Taos, NM 87571
Contact: Brian Shields, Executive Director

Great Basin Mine Watch
Reno, NV 89503
Contact: Dan Randolph, Executive Director

Idaho Conservation League
Boise, Idaho 83701
Contact: John Robison, Public Lands Director

Monday, November 5, 2007

El Paso County Commissioners decide not to weigh in on Asarco debate

"El Paso Times - El Paso,TX,USA
By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times County Commissioners decided not to weigh in as a body today on the Asarco debate. ..."
County opts to stay out of Asarco debate

GAO Report has not been finished or officially released

...where did this "GAO" report come from when other sources tell us that it isn't finished or released yet?  And why only talk about Rocky Mt. Arsenal (RMA) material?  Why not Tooele UT material?  Why not NASA or the Army Depot waste that came to El Paso's Asarco smelter? ...  Is it a coincidence that Asarco's response to the NYTimes Oct. '06 story a year ago (the secret DOJ document) was to immediately post previously unrevealed/unseen RMA chemical weapon quench water contracts on its official website? 

"Feds find Asarco clean on hazmat charges By Mike Mrkvicka
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has thrown cold water on the claim by Asarco opponents that tons of hazardous waste were burned illegally at the El Paso smelter.

In a 42-page report obtained by El Paso Inc., the Congressional investigative agency discounts much of the anti-Asarco speculation surrounding a “secret” EPA memorandum uncovered last year by Heather McMurray, a local school teacher and Asarco opponent.

The hazardous material came to the El Paso smelter from 1993 to 1995 from the former Army chemical warfare depot at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal outside Denver....."

Judge lets Asarco sue Mexican owners

"By Les Blumenthal McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit filed by Asarco against its Mexican owners in a ruling that eventually could help the bankrupt U.S. mining and smelting company recover billions of dollars to help pay off environmental and asbestos-related claims, including hundreds of millions in claims from Washington state.

The lawsuit alleges Americas Mining, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, S.A. de C.V., "fraudulently" stripped Asarco LLC of its lucrative holding in two Peruvian copper mines just as Asarco was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, clears the way for a trial next spring. In preparing for the trial, Asarco lawyers say they will question members of one of Mexico's wealthiest families, brothers German Larrea Mota-Velasco and Genaro Larrea Mota-Velasco, as part of the case.

The Larrea family controls Grupo Mexico, the largest Mexican mining company and the third-largest producer of copper in the world. The Larrea brothers have been executives of Grupo Mexico, Americas Mining and Asarco. The family is considered one of the 100 or so richest in Mexico, dubbed the "fantasticos" because of their economic, political and social clout.".....

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The ASARCO Press onslaught begins....

The New Plant Manager, Bob Litle writes an opinion piece in the Sunday paper (El Paso Times) and coincidently the EP Inc. (Nov.4-11)  releases the first news about the GAO investigative report, which says that nothing wrong ever happened -- it was all a paperwork error.  Amazing that the Federal Dept. of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency and also ASARCO felt it necessary to keep this "paperwork error" secret from the Paso del Norte community and the world for eight years!

No one has explained why we have never gotten a copy of the chemical-analysis of the Encycle material(s) or the old ASARCO lake's "new" water, or the pond mud that got railed/trucked clear-back to Corpus Christi's TX US Ecology dump.  No one explains the 20010628 meeting-memo that lets us know the EPA and TCEQ are hiding something from us, likely a metal.

Bob Litle writes, "The opposition to Asarco is not about the environment, it is about the land."  And all he will talk about is lead (Pb) in the dirt - not any other metals. None at all.

I don't know about anyone else but I know that my opposition is not about land.  It is about the WATER, and about getting an honest answer to the question "what is it?".  What is poisoning us from the almost-decade of burning untracked/unmanifested toxic wastes in the ConTop furnaces?  Why did the consent decree tell Asarco to pave streets for six years, not five or ten years?  Why did the consent decree require that all materials going out of Encycle have spectrometer analysis after that?  Why, when the ConTop was designed to burn sludge (dirt) has no one talked about NORM waste?  WHAT ARE THEY CONTINUING TO HIDE?

Mr. Litle writes "Wouldn't it be great to have an additional $2.2 million in tax revenue every year to curtail the raising of taxes and help our schools?"

In reply, I can't help but think, "wouldn't it be nice to have 24 million dollars from Asarco to clean up the huge Arsenic plume beneath our drinking water (the old american canal) so that the 70+ year old canal might be replaced?"  Wouldn't it be nice if the El Paso City schools got the money from Asarco to clean up Asarco's waste in the old schools?

If years of toxic waste burning was a "paperwork error" then how can we trust the paperwork figures from Asarco telling us how much poison is in our Paso del Norte environment from their illegal waste disposal?  When Asarco removes 2 inches of dirt from Anapra yards and says that they are cleaned up, and in Maryland a smelter removes two feet of dirt before deciding that they cleaned-up enough -- what are we to believe?  What are we to believe when the Fox tells us that the chickens are safe?

In my opinion the simultaneous release of these El Paso Times and EP Inc. pro-Asarco articles is suspicious, and leave a lot out --- when we get to see the full analysis of the ENCYCLE dirt that caused the EPA and the DOJ to slap a five-state multi-million dollar settlement on Asarco, then we might be getting closer to the truth.

(click on image to see full-page)
From "Rails of the Pass of the North" by TX Western Press, El Paso