ASARCO


  • ASARCO/GRUPO MEXICO CHRONOLOGY

    One Morphing Corporation, Many Communities

    ASARCO is one of the oldest US-based multi-national corporations. During its more than 120-year history, the company has owned mines in Mission, Ray and Silver Bell, Arizona; Butte, Troy, Black Pine and Mike Horse, Montana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Glover, Missouri; Garfield, Utah; Tar Creek, Oklahoma; Leadville, Colorado; Ground Hog, New Mexico; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, among others.

    ASARCO has owned smelting and refining operations in Hayden, Arizona; El Paso and Amarillo, Texas; East Helena, Montana; Garfield and Murray, Utah; Selby, California; Denver, Colorado; Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Bunker Hill, Idaho; and Omaha, Nebraska.

    ASARCO also had international holdings and investments in Mexico, Peru, Australia, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Newfoundland, Canada, West Africa, the Congo, and Saudi Arabia.

    Grupo Mexico began as an ASARCO subsidiary, Industria Minera Mexico, S.A. Through a complex reorganization process, ASARCO was sold to Grupo Mexico is 1999; Grupo Mexico purchased ASARCO’s lucrative Peruvian subsidiary, Southern Peru Copper, in 2002. Grupo Mexico lost control of ASARCO when ASARCO declared bankruptcy in 2005. In 2009 Grupo Mexico regained control of ASARCO. Grupo Mexico now controls some of the largest and wealthiest mines in the world, and is ranked as the third largest copper producer globally.

    This timeline is a work in progress. We’ve focused on the communities with which we’ve had the most contact and that we’ve learned the most about. We welcome new submissions about communities that have lived and worked with ASARCO, Grupo Mexico or any of their corporate offshoots.

    Early History

    1887   Lead smelter constructed on the Texas/New Mexico/Mexico border, just above the Rio Grande River

    1889    The Guggenheim family founds the Philadelphia Smelting and Refining Company in Pueblo, Colorado. The plant smelts ore high in zinc—often rejected by other companies because of its contaminated slag.

    1890   Mexican ruler Porforio Diaz grants the Guggenheims the right to create the “Great National Mexican Smelting Company” which establishes a lead smelter in Monterrey and a lead/copper smelter in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The Mexican government stations armed troops on the Monterrey site to prevent unrest. Over time the Guggenheims purchase more mines and construct or purchase railways to open northern Mexico to development.

    1898   Henry Rogers, instrumental in forming the Standard Oil Company trust organizes the Amalgamated Copper Company to acquire “all the principal smelting works in the U.S. with the exception of the Guggenheims” Later, needing capital, Rogers approaches the Guggenheims, who demand control of the developing trust.

    1899   Rodgers and his partners create the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), organized under the laws of New Jersey (laws known to be particularly favorable to industrial monopolies), with ownership of refineries in Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, and Kansas; mines in Colorado and Mexico; and smelters in Colorado; El Paso, Texas, El Carmen, Mexico, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

    1901   ASARCO averts a catastrophic war with the Guggenheims, who take control of the company, acquiring 50% of ASARCO’s stock.

    Era of Expansion

    1902   ASARCO expands, building lead smelters at Murray, Utah and Chihuahua, Mexico. The company acquires mines and future mineral rights in Idaho, invests in zinc mining and production and purchases a smelter in Everett, Washington.

    1905  ASARCO purchases the Tacoma smelter. The town surrounding the plant is incorporated as Ruston, Washington.

    1905-1910  ASARCO continues to expand. Besides acquiring mines with deposits of zinc, lead, and silver, the company also invests in non-ferrous metals, primarily copper. , Asarco purchases mines and constructs a copper smelter in Arizona, builds a zinc plants in Texas, purchases the Selby, California lead smelter and refinery and a Baltimore copper refinery, and builds copper smelters in Garfield, Utah, and Hayden, Arizona.

    1906   Mexican miners strike for equality against the Cananea Consolidated Copper company, owned by William Greene. The strike is put down by Arizona vigilantes, supported by President Diaz. This event is known throughout Mexico as the uprising that sparked the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

    1907  ASARCO becomes a publicly held company.

    1909   Hayden, Arizona founded as a company town to provide housing for workers supporting mining and smelting operations. ASARCO and Kennecott build side-by-side copper smelters in Hayden.

    1910  El Paso smelter expanded to produce copper.

    1910  Solano County, California sues ASARCO on behalf of local farmers, asserting that sulfur dioxide emissions are destroying their crops. The lower court grants an injunction against Asarco and the California Supreme Court sustains it. The Court appoints the Selby Smelter Commission which concludes that the plant can operate without hurting crops if it limits SO2 emissions to 30 tons/day.

    ASARCO establishes an agricultural research laboratory which conducts extensive experiments, fumigating agricultural plots with SO2. The company concludes that high smokestacks will do a better job dispersing emissions over a larger area—this becomes Asarco’s solution to concerns voiced about emissions for the next 70 years. The company constructs tall stacks at Murray, Selby, and Tacoma (and later, in El Paso, East Helena and Hayden).

    1910-1940   ASARCO purchases mines in five new areas of Mexico, invests in copper mines in Chile, and tests for metal in Colombia, Venezuela, the West Indies, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Nicaragua and Brazil, eventually forming a Peruvian mining company as a wholly owned subsidiary and mining intensively in Bolivia. ASARCO also invests in mines in Canada, Australia, West Africa and Saudi Arabia.

    1950’s  An El Paso pharmacist, Joe Piñon, attempts to set up a Poison Control Center in El Paso to address ASARCO contamination, but the plan is quietly squelched by the El Paso business community.

    1954  ASARCO develops its first open-pit copper mine at Silver Bell, Arizona.

    1955  ASARCO purchases the Kennecott smelter in Hayden.

    1955  Hayden incorporated; named the year’s All-American City.

    1960  Southern Peru Copper Corporation, in which ASARCO has a major stakeholder interest, opens the lucrative Toquepala mine and Ilo smelter in Peru.

    Corporate Challenges/Community Resistance

    1965  ASARCO constructs an 800-foot smokestack in El Paso. The company says the stack will “diffuse objectionable emissions.”

    1967  Under pressure from the Mexican government, ASARCO’s Mexican mines and plants are reorganized as Asarco Mexicana. 51% of interest in the new company is sold to Mexican investors.

    1970  Passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

    1972  Rank and file workers at the Ruston, Washington plant publish the first issue of The Smelterworker. The newspaper highlights research by Dr. Samuel Milham of the Washington State Health Department on children’s exposure to industrially produced arsenic in Ruston.

    1972  Dangerously high blood lead levels are discovered in children living in Smeltertown, below the El Paso, Texas smelter smokestacks. A team of researchers and physicians, led by Dr. Philip Landrigan, conclusively establish high levels of lead contamination emanating from the smelter. In areas with high levels of lead in soil, air and dust, children are shown to be breathing in and ingesting lead particles. Dr. Landrigan’s team demonstrates that the lead-poisoned children have irreversible damage to brain development even at sub-clinical levels. ASARCO settles out of court, establishing a trust fund for the lead-impacted children and promising to install new equipment to curb emissions. Smeltertown is destroyed.

    1972-73  ASARCO constructs acid plants at a cost of $50, in Ruston, Hayden and El Paso, to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. The company calls the acid plants “tangible evidence of ASARCO’s dedication to improved air quality.”

    1974  Asarco Mexicana is reorganized as Industrial Minera Mexicano. 15% of Asarco’s interest is sold to Mexican investors, reducing equity to 34%.

    1975  Ruston plant manager, Armand Labbe, attends hearings of the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Washington, DC and testifies that if the government creates new standards for arsenic emissions, the plant will have to close.

    1978  Asarco Mexicana is reorganized as Grupo Industrial Minera Mexico, listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange as GIMMEX).

    1980  Superfund enacted into law.

    1980  The EPA declares the ASARCO smelter site and the entire community of Ruston part of the Commencement Bay-Near Shore Tidelands Superfund site.

    1981  El Paso zinc plant shut down.

    1985  El Paso lead plant shut down.

    1980’s-1990’s: Under pressure from government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, ASARCO begins closing aging plants, including the Ruston/Tacoma copper smelter and the Globe, Colorado, cadmium plant. ASARCO’s facilities and neighboring communities in Tacoma, Colorado, Omaha and Montana are declared Superfund sites by the EPA. ASARCO is required to invest millions in remediating area soils, including yards. In Ruston demolition of smelter buildings begins and the EPA launches the “Tacoma Process” whereby the Ruston community is asked to participate in establishing local exposure levels for arsenic.

    1986  ASARCO purchases the Ray, Arizona copper mine from Kennecott.

    1988-1990  Forced to privatize national resources, the Mexican government auctions off the historic Cananea mine and concentrator and the nearby Nacozari mine, Mexicana de Cobre. GIMMEX acquires the concession to operate the historic Cananea mine and concentrator for $525 million with a commitment to invest an additional $400 million; the company also acquires concessions for the Caridad and Nacozari mines.

    1988  Asarco creates Encycle, a waste treatment facility in Corpus Christi.

    1989  Asarco announces decision to end involvement in coal mining.

    1989  In Hayden the Steelworkers discover and publicize ASARCO’s systematic under-reporting of Hispanic workers’ health results. Willie Craig, President of Local 881 creates an investigative committee and issues a report, Arsenic and Asarco: The Right to Know, the Right to Live.

    1999  ASARCO suspends operations in El Paso—the plant is placed on “care and maintenance status.”

    1994  GIMMEX becomes GRUPO MEXICO.

    1995  ASARCO purchases an additional 10.7% interest in Southern Peru Copper Corporation, increasing its holdings to 63%.

    1997  The Mexican government auctions off railroads, which are acquired by Grupo Mexico and other investors.

    1997  In Hayden, Arizona, Betty Amparano is asked to sign a lease releasing her landlord from liability for toxic dust. Amparano takes her children for blood tests and discovers her children have blood lead levels over four times the level at which children are known to suffer brain damage. A local environmental group, Don’t Waste Arizona, helps the community to prepare a class-action lawsuit against ASARCO. Community members knock on doors, distribute surveys and help to collect information about diseases prevalent in the community. The illnesses identified include heart disease, cancers, lung diseases, stillbirths, birth defects, asthma and lead poisoning. By 1999 250 people, about a quarter of the population, sign on to the class action lawsuit.

    1998  The Department of Justice and EPA discover that ASARCO has been illegally transporting hazardous waste from Department of Defense chemical weapons storage sites from its waste treatment facility, Encycle, to its El Paso and East Helena smelters for incineration. A legally binding consent decree requires ASARCO to pay millions of dollars in fines, modernize its remaining plants and improve working conditions and safety procedures.

    1999  Grupo Mexico acquires ASARCO for $2.2 billion.

    1999  Grupo Mexico closes the Workers Clinic in Cananea.

    1999  ASARCO suspends operations at the El Paso, Texas smelter.

    2002  Grupo Mexico, ASARCO’s former subsidiary, purchases ASARCO’s lucrative Southern Peru Copper Corporation for $2.5 billion. This acquisition makes Grupo Mexico the third largest copper producer in the world. The Justice Department warns that ASARCO may be contemplating bankruptcy and requires ASARCO to set up a $100 million trust fund for existing environmental obligations.

    2002  ASARCO applies to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to renew its air permit at the El Paso smelter. Senator Eliot Shapleigh leads a community march to El Paso City Hall to demand that the smelter remain closed. Get the Lead Out, a community coalition, is formed to fight the re-opening of the smelter.

    2005  Through a stock swap, Southern Peru Copper Corporation acquires Minera Mexico, Grupo Mexico’s mining division. SPCC becomes Southern Copper Corporation. Grupo Mexico’s railroad division acquires the railroad company, Ferrosur, expanding its control of Mexican transportation networks.

    2005  Grupo Mexico cuts retiree and health benefits for U.S. workers. The United Steelworkers, Asarco’s main union at its Ray Mine and Hayden smelter, vote to strike. Members of Section 65 of the Mexican National Union of Mine and Metalworkers, known as Los Mineros of Cananea cross the border to join Steelworkers rallies and express their solidarity with the strikers.

    2005  ASARCO declares Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing environmental liabilities as a primary cause. The company has 90+ sites in the United States alone where closures/cleanups are an issue, and 22 Superfund sites.

    2006  The Hayden, Arizona smelter roof collapses.

    2006  An explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine kills 65 miners. Napoleon Gomez, national president of Los Mineros calls the explosion, “industrial homicide.” In retaliation, the government files trumped-up charges against Gomez, forcing him to flee Mexico for Canada, where he becomes a guest of the Steelworkers.

    2006  The last building on the ASARCO/Tacoma site is demolished. The site is sold to a local developer, MC Construction, to build a high-end mix of resident homes, condominiums and commercial buildings.

    2006  Heather McMurray, an El Paso, Texas, environmental activist, breaks the story of Asarco’s illegal incineration of hazardous waste. The story is published in the New York Times.

    2006  A study by Michael Ketterer of Northern Arizona University links lead isotopes from El Paso, Anapra, New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez to Asarco’s ore from the Santa Eulalia mine in Mexico.

    2006 Richard Schmidt, the Corpus Christi federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy process, removes Grupo Mexico from control of ASARCO, replacing it with a board of creditors that includes the United Steelworkers. The Steelworkers sign a new contract with ASARCO that gives them input into company decision-making and protects health and retiree benefits.

    2007  Sterlite (Vedanta), a London-based mining company with assets in India and Africa, offers to purchase ASARCO.

    2007  The EPA releases its first reports of contamination in Hayden and Winkleman, Arizona, and asks the Arizona governor to list Hayden as a federal Superfund site.

    2007  The Mineros of Cananea strike against Grupo Mexico over health and safety conditions in the mine and community. Steelworkers from Arizona organize solidarity visits and aid for the striking miners of Cananea.

    2008  Grupo Mexico closes Ronquillo Hospital, the last public medical resource in Cananea.

    2008  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awards ASARCO its air permit to re-open operations in El Paso. Commissioner Soward reflects on the decision, saying, “Until the Texas legislature changes the very specific provision that they have adopted for air permit renewals, we have to comply with it…we really have no choice.”

    2008  ASARCO agrees to pay $4.8 million to the Hayden class action litigants. Legal fees take 80% of the settlement.

    January 2008  EPA sponsors informational meetings in Hayden; residents receive reports of yard testing; 15 homes are listed for emergency clean-up of arsenic, lead, copper and chromium.

    April 2008  EPA, ASARCO and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality reach agreement that ASARCO will administer and fund the clean-up in Hayden, including soil removal and replacement in affected yards. There will be no Superfund listing.

    2008-2009  Sterlite and Grupo Mexico engage in a bidding war for ASARCO.

    February 2009  ASARCO announces plans to close the El Paso plant permanently.

    November 2009  ASARCO emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is returned to Grupo Mexico.

    June 2010  The Mexican courts dissolve the collective bargaining relationship between los Mineros and Grupo Mexico. This allows the government to send thousands of federal police to break the strike. The mine is returned to Grupo Mexico’s control; the company offers to rehire strikers if they will accept severance benefits and join a company union. The majority of union workers have refused.

  • Under the Stack

    Our documentary film, Under the Stack, is just completed. We hope to be making it available soon. Here’s a brief preview of the film and what environmental justice advocates are saying about it:

    Under the Stack: a Documentary Film by Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson

     Under the Stack documents the efforts of three communities to answer one urgent question: what has made people in our community sick?

    What El Paso, Texas; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Hayden, Arizona have in common is their long-standing relationship with one corporation: ASARCO, the American Smelting and Refining Company. Founded in the late 19th century, ASARCO was one of the first multinationals in the U.S. Company towns grew up around the mines and smelters, and generations of families looked to ASARCO for jobs while struggling with the company over health and safety. In the late 1990’s, under investigation for unsafe working conditions and toxic emissions, ASARCO closed many of its plants. In 2005 the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing environmental liabilities estimated at $11 billion as the primary cause.

    A Chapter 11 bankruptcy is designed to negotiate down a company’s debts and liabilities in order to stay in production and increase profits. ASARCO had over 90 polluted sites in the U.S. alone. The company emerged from bankruptcy 4 years later, after agreeing to pay $1.79 billion in remediation costs. Now relieved of liabilities, ASARCO is profitable, while its new parent company, GRUPO MEXICO, is one of the largest copper producers in the world. Meanwhile, workers and community members in the U.S. continue to struggle with ASARCO, and GRUPO MEXICO has been linked to severe safety violations and contamination of local rivers in Mexico, as well as the death of 65 workers at its Pasta de Conchos mine.

    What’s happening is a strategy of polluters who have enormous environmental liabilities…it’s a strategy that will be used over and over by companies across the U.S. and the world. The bankruptcy courts will play out this environmental saga; this is the very first one.            

    Eliot Shapleigh, former State Senator, El Paso, Texas

    During ASARCO’s bankruptcy, former workers and residents in El Paso, Corpus Christi and Hayden began to challenge company practices and do research that connected their health problems to its toxic emissions. Under the Stack documents their efforts to understand the consequences of working at ASARCO and living under the stack. Engaging in citizen research and organizing, with little help from public agencies or experts, people are coming together to learn how ASARCO impacted their communities and demand a response from the company and the government

    Why didn’t the government protect us? Why does the government protect ASARCO?                                                                                 

    Carlos Rodriguez, former ASARCO worker

    Under the Stack is part of a multi-media research and documentation project. Project directors Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson, faculty at The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, began collaborating with ASARCO-impacted communities in 2006. We’ve interviewed workers, residents, public officials, and environmental and social justice activists, and filmed community activities and public meetings. The film is a case study of citizen efforts to challenge corporate abuse. Our project has a website, Their Mines, Our Stories (www.theirminesourstories.org). We’ve published articles on ASARCO’s bankruptcy, and crossed the border to witness and write about struggles for health and safety by Mexican unions and community members at GRUPO MEXICO’s mines.

    Responses to Under the Stack:

     Under the Stack is an exciting new film that uses storytelling to describe how corporations take advantage of communities in their pursuit of profits. Real people are poisoned, not in a single community but several communities, not in one workplace but several workplaces, by the same polluter. This film documents through the voices of local victims, how our government turned its back allowing ASARCO to poison workers and destroy communities without being held accountable. This is a  must see film on how one corporation manipulated the system to avoid its responsibilities and liabilities.      

    Lois Gibbs, Director, Center for Health, Education and Justice

    Under the Stack is a story of community resilience and resistance in the face of corporate power and environmental disregard.  As the tensions between economic growth and public accountability are explored the film becomes a cautionary tale, at once disturbing yet ultimately hopeful, for those determined to make our jobs and communities more safe and sustainable for the next generation.

    Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH, Fomer Director, State OSHA Program, WA State Department of Labor & Industries

     ASARCO’s mining and smelting activities contaminated communities in 19 states.  “Under the Stack” tells the stories of workers and families who lived in just three of these communities, but property damage, terrible health problems, and deaths have destroyed the quality of life in others as well.  What is inspiring about this film is its portrayal of the enduring spirit of impacted families and their passion for justice. What is alarming is that Asarco is still actively polluting some American communities.

    Doris Cellarius, longtime Sierra Club toxics leader. Ms. Cellarius works with the Blue-Green Alliance to strengthen US laws to protect workers and communities.

    A salute is due Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson for persisting in making this film. It tells the story, or at least part of the story, of the impact one company has had on three communities. At times moving and inspiring, the film clearly lays out the ways in which Asarco mined and processed the local ore, used the local workers, polluted the local air, water and soil, made (and continues to make) the local community sick and then left without cleaning up the mess. Activists, workers and community members taking on the company and their government allies are the bright spots in an otherwise bleak picture. Though this story is local, the implications are global, as similar scenarios play out in communities with other names.  

    Michael Lax, MD, MPH, Director, Central NY Occupational Health Clinical Center

    Under the Stack successfully explores three US communities in El Paso and Corpus Christi, Texas and Hayden, Arizona, struggling to live and work under the toxic legacy of the ASARCO Corporation. In powerful voices, former and current ASARCO workers, their families, their union leaders, and their communities, describe the effects of past and current corporate decisions on their lives. As the film explores these struggles, it highlights the many complex connections between their work, home and community environments and between the hopes and dreams of past, current and future generations.

     Under the Stack is a part of the larger project, Their Mines, Our Stories: Work, Environment and Justice in ASARCO-Impacted Communities. The filmmakers, Lin Nelson and Anne Fischel, faculty members at The Evergreen State College in Washington State, have also created a wonderful website resource (http://www.theirminesourstories.org/) with much more information on these issues and communities. I highly recommend this film for all interested in occupational and environmental health, environmental justice, labor and community organizing and the history of these fields and of these communities.

    Mark Catlin, Occupational Health and Safety Director, Service Employees International Union; Historic Workplace & Environmental Health and Safety Films

    Under the Stack is the story of three communities impacted by ASARCO, a transnational mining, smelting and refining corporation. Describing how it released massive amounts of pollution and the effects on the workers and people of Corpus Christi and El Paso in Texas and Hayden, Arizona, this documentary reveals the human costs of environmental contamination and corporate greed. But this is not merely a story about helpless victims; it is also shows the strength of the individuals and families affected and how the communities organized themselves to protest the harm inflicted on them. Under the Stack is a powerful film about environmental health, social injustice, corporate irresponsibility and the power of community.

    Kate Davies M.A., D.Phil., The Rise of the U.S. Environmental Health Movement, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Washington

    A haunting and cautionary tale about a modern day monster, a toxic spewing menace unaccountable for the costs  and suffering of communities that lived and worked in its shadow. Ultimately this is a parable of the tragedy of our day and the monsters created by greed. Communities facing extreme energy extraction and other emerging polluters must heed this tale of loss and deception so we don’t look back in another hundred years and know that we repeated the history of Asarco.

    Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director, Science and Environmental Health Co-Founder, Women’s Congress for Future Generations

    Under the Stack documents the cavalier behaviors of mega-corporation ASARCO and the inspiring resilience of those exposed to its deadly pollutants.  It culminates in the questions about democracy we need to be asking.  “Somewhere along the line, everything got backwards,” an activist notes near the end of the film. Instead of protecting workers and communities, government agencies serve ASARCO and other corporations, he points out.  Viewers should ask themselves why that is, and what we will do to create the democracy we need.  I recommend Under the Stack as a compelling review of a classic environmental justice struggle that heralds the courage and power we have to have to ultimately triumph.

    Carol Dansereau, Environmental activist and attorney who worked for decades with farm worker families poisoned by pesticides and other communities fighting for justice. Recipient of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Public Justice Award.  Author of, Defeating the Giant. How to End Injustice and Heal the Planet, forthcoming

    Contact Information:

    Anne Fischel (fischela@evergreen.edu)

    Lin Nelson (nelson@evergreen.edu)

    “Their Mines, Our Stories” (www.theirminesourstories.org)

  • Bankruptcy
  • Company History
    • ASARCO/GRUPO MEXICO CHRONOLOGY

      One Morphing Corporation, Many Communities

      ASARCO is one of the oldest US-based multi-national corporations. During its more than 120-year history, the company has owned mines in Mission, Ray and Silver Bell, Arizona; Butte, Troy, Black Pine and Mike Horse, Montana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Glover, Missouri; Garfield, Utah; Tar Creek, Oklahoma; Leadville, Colorado; Ground Hog, New Mexico; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, among others.

      ASARCO has owned smelting and refining operations in Hayden, Arizona; El Paso and Amarillo, Texas; East Helena, Montana; Garfield and Murray, Utah; Selby, California; Denver, Colorado; Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Bunker Hill, Idaho; and Omaha, Nebraska.

      ASARCO also had international holdings and investments in Mexico, Peru, Australia, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Newfoundland, Canada, West Africa, the Congo, and Saudi Arabia.

      Grupo Mexico began as an ASARCO subsidiary, Industria Minera Mexico, S.A. Through a complex reorganization process, ASARCO was sold to Grupo Mexico is 1999; Grupo Mexico purchased ASARCO’s lucrative Peruvian subsidiary, Southern Peru Copper, in 2002. Grupo Mexico lost control of ASARCO when ASARCO declared bankruptcy in 2005. In 2009 Grupo Mexico regained control of ASARCO. Grupo Mexico now controls some of the largest and wealthiest mines in the world, and is ranked as the third largest copper producer globally.

      This timeline is a work in progress. We’ve focused on the communities with which we’ve had the most contact and that we’ve learned the most about. We welcome new submissions about communities that have lived and worked with ASARCO, Grupo Mexico or any of their corporate offshoots.

      Early History

      1887   Lead smelter constructed on the Texas/New Mexico/Mexico border, just above the Rio Grande River

      1889    The Guggenheim family founds the Philadelphia Smelting and Refining Company in Pueblo, Colorado. The plant smelts ore high in zinc—often rejected by other companies because of its contaminated slag.

      1890   Mexican ruler Porforio Diaz grants the Guggenheims the right to create the “Great National Mexican Smelting Company” which establishes a lead smelter in Monterrey and a lead/copper smelter in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The Mexican government stations armed troops on the Monterrey site to prevent unrest. Over time the Guggenheims purchase more mines and construct or purchase railways to open northern Mexico to development.

      1898   Henry Rogers, instrumental in forming the Standard Oil Company trust organizes the Amalgamated Copper Company to acquire “all the principal smelting works in the U.S. with the exception of the Guggenheims” Later, needing capital, Rogers approaches the Guggenheims, who demand control of the developing trust.

      1899   Rodgers and his partners create the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), organized under the laws of New Jersey (laws known to be particularly favorable to industrial monopolies), with ownership of refineries in Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, and Kansas; mines in Colorado and Mexico; and smelters in Colorado; El Paso, Texas, El Carmen, Mexico, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

      1901   ASARCO averts a catastrophic war with the Guggenheims, who take control of the company, acquiring 50% of ASARCO’s stock.

      Era of Expansion

      1902   ASARCO expands, building lead smelters at Murray, Utah and Chihuahua, Mexico. The company acquires mines and future mineral rights in Idaho, invests in zinc mining and production and purchases a smelter in Everett, Washington.

      1905  ASARCO purchases the Tacoma smelter. The town surrounding the plant is incorporated as Ruston, Washington.

      1905-1910  ASARCO continues to expand. Besides acquiring mines with deposits of zinc, lead, and silver, the company also invests in non-ferrous metals, primarily copper. , Asarco purchases mines and constructs a copper smelter in Arizona, builds a zinc plants in Texas, purchases the Selby, California lead smelter and refinery and a Baltimore copper refinery, and builds copper smelters in Garfield, Utah, and Hayden, Arizona.

      1906   Mexican miners strike for equality against the Cananea Consolidated Copper company, owned by William Greene. The strike is put down by Arizona vigilantes, supported by President Diaz. This event is known throughout Mexico as the uprising that sparked the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

      1907  ASARCO becomes a publicly held company.

      1909   Hayden, Arizona founded as a company town to provide housing for workers supporting mining and smelting operations. ASARCO and Kennecott build side-by-side copper smelters in Hayden.

      1910  El Paso smelter expanded to produce copper.

      1910  Solano County, California sues ASARCO on behalf of local farmers, asserting that sulfur dioxide emissions are destroying their crops. The lower court grants an injunction against Asarco and the California Supreme Court sustains it. The Court appoints the Selby Smelter Commission which concludes that the plant can operate without hurting crops if it limits SO2 emissions to 30 tons/day.

      ASARCO establishes an agricultural research laboratory which conducts extensive experiments, fumigating agricultural plots with SO2. The company concludes that high smokestacks will do a better job dispersing emissions over a larger area—this becomes Asarco’s solution to concerns voiced about emissions for the next 70 years. The company constructs tall stacks at Murray, Selby, and Tacoma (and later, in El Paso, East Helena and Hayden).

      1910-1940   ASARCO purchases mines in five new areas of Mexico, invests in copper mines in Chile, and tests for metal in Colombia, Venezuela, the West Indies, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Nicaragua and Brazil, eventually forming a Peruvian mining company as a wholly owned subsidiary and mining intensively in Bolivia. ASARCO also invests in mines in Canada, Australia, West Africa and Saudi Arabia.

      1950’s  An El Paso pharmacist, Joe Piñon, attempts to set up a Poison Control Center in El Paso to address ASARCO contamination, but the plan is quietly squelched by the El Paso business community.

      1954  ASARCO develops its first open-pit copper mine at Silver Bell, Arizona.

      1955  ASARCO purchases the Kennecott smelter in Hayden.

      1955  Hayden incorporated; named the year’s All-American City.

      1960  Southern Peru Copper Corporation, in which ASARCO has a major stakeholder interest, opens the lucrative Toquepala mine and Ilo smelter in Peru.

      Corporate Challenges/Community Resistance

      1965  ASARCO constructs an 800-foot smokestack in El Paso. The company says the stack will “diffuse objectionable emissions.”

      1967  Under pressure from the Mexican government, ASARCO’s Mexican mines and plants are reorganized as Asarco Mexicana. 51% of interest in the new company is sold to Mexican investors.

      1970  Passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

      1972  Rank and file workers at the Ruston, Washington plant publish the first issue of The Smelterworker. The newspaper highlights research by Dr. Samuel Milham of the Washington State Health Department on children’s exposure to industrially produced arsenic in Ruston.

      1972  Dangerously high blood lead levels are discovered in children living in Smeltertown, below the El Paso, Texas smelter smokestacks. A team of researchers and physicians, led by Dr. Philip Landrigan, conclusively establish high levels of lead contamination emanating from the smelter. In areas with high levels of lead in soil, air and dust, children are shown to be breathing in and ingesting lead particles. Dr. Landrigan’s team demonstrates that the lead-poisoned children have irreversible damage to brain development even at sub-clinical levels. ASARCO settles out of court, establishing a trust fund for the lead-impacted children and promising to install new equipment to curb emissions. Smeltertown is destroyed.

      1972-73  ASARCO constructs acid plants at a cost of $50, in Ruston, Hayden and El Paso, to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. The company calls the acid plants “tangible evidence of ASARCO’s dedication to improved air quality.”

      1974  Asarco Mexicana is reorganized as Industrial Minera Mexicano. 15% of Asarco’s interest is sold to Mexican investors, reducing equity to 34%.

      1975  Ruston plant manager, Armand Labbe, attends hearings of the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Washington, DC and testifies that if the government creates new standards for arsenic emissions, the plant will have to close.

      1978  Asarco Mexicana is reorganized as Grupo Industrial Minera Mexico, listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange as GIMMEX).

      1980  Superfund enacted into law.

      1980  The EPA declares the ASARCO smelter site and the entire community of Ruston part of the Commencement Bay-Near Shore Tidelands Superfund site.

      1981  El Paso zinc plant shut down.

      1985  El Paso lead plant shut down.

      1980’s-1990’s: Under pressure from government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, ASARCO begins closing aging plants, including the Ruston/Tacoma copper smelter and the Globe, Colorado, cadmium plant. ASARCO’s facilities and neighboring communities in Tacoma, Colorado, Omaha and Montana are declared Superfund sites by the EPA. ASARCO is required to invest millions in remediating area soils, including yards. In Ruston demolition of smelter buildings begins and the EPA launches the “Tacoma Process” whereby the Ruston community is asked to participate in establishing local exposure levels for arsenic.

      1986  ASARCO purchases the Ray, Arizona copper mine from Kennecott.

      1988-1990  Forced to privatize national resources, the Mexican government auctions off the historic Cananea mine and concentrator and the nearby Nacozari mine, Mexicana de Cobre. GIMMEX acquires the concession to operate the historic Cananea mine and concentrator for $525 million with a commitment to invest an additional $400 million; the company also acquires concessions for the Caridad and Nacozari mines.

      1988  Asarco creates Encycle, a waste treatment facility in Corpus Christi.

      1989  Asarco announces decision to end involvement in coal mining.

      1989  In Hayden the Steelworkers discover and publicize ASARCO’s systematic under-reporting of Hispanic workers’ health results. Willie Craig, President of Local 881 creates an investigative committee and issues a report, Arsenic and Asarco: The Right to Know, the Right to Live.

      1999  ASARCO suspends operations in El Paso—the plant is placed on “care and maintenance status.”

      1994  GIMMEX becomes GRUPO MEXICO.

      1995  ASARCO purchases an additional 10.7% interest in Southern Peru Copper Corporation, increasing its holdings to 63%.

      1997  The Mexican government auctions off railroads, which are acquired by Grupo Mexico and other investors.

      1997  In Hayden, Arizona, Betty Amparano is asked to sign a lease releasing her landlord from liability for toxic dust. Amparano takes her children for blood tests and discovers her children have blood lead levels over four times the level at which children are known to suffer brain damage. A local environmental group, Don’t Waste Arizona, helps the community to prepare a class-action lawsuit against ASARCO. Community members knock on doors, distribute surveys and help to collect information about diseases prevalent in the community. The illnesses identified include heart disease, cancers, lung diseases, stillbirths, birth defects, asthma and lead poisoning. By 1999 250 people, about a quarter of the population, sign on to the class action lawsuit.

      1998  The Department of Justice and EPA discover that ASARCO has been illegally transporting hazardous waste from Department of Defense chemical weapons storage sites from its waste treatment facility, Encycle, to its El Paso and East Helena smelters for incineration. A legally binding consent decree requires ASARCO to pay millions of dollars in fines, modernize its remaining plants and improve working conditions and safety procedures.

      1999  Grupo Mexico acquires ASARCO for $2.2 billion.

      1999  Grupo Mexico closes the Workers Clinic in Cananea.

      1999  ASARCO suspends operations at the El Paso, Texas smelter.

      2002  Grupo Mexico, ASARCO’s former subsidiary, purchases ASARCO’s lucrative Southern Peru Copper Corporation for $2.5 billion. This acquisition makes Grupo Mexico the third largest copper producer in the world. The Justice Department warns that ASARCO may be contemplating bankruptcy and requires ASARCO to set up a $100 million trust fund for existing environmental obligations.

      2002  ASARCO applies to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to renew its air permit at the El Paso smelter. Senator Eliot Shapleigh leads a community march to El Paso City Hall to demand that the smelter remain closed. Get the Lead Out, a community coalition, is formed to fight the re-opening of the smelter.

      2005  Through a stock swap, Southern Peru Copper Corporation acquires Minera Mexico, Grupo Mexico’s mining division. SPCC becomes Southern Copper Corporation. Grupo Mexico’s railroad division acquires the railroad company, Ferrosur, expanding its control of Mexican transportation networks.

      2005  Grupo Mexico cuts retiree and health benefits for U.S. workers. The United Steelworkers, Asarco’s main union at its Ray Mine and Hayden smelter, vote to strike. Members of Section 65 of the Mexican National Union of Mine and Metalworkers, known as Los Mineros of Cananea cross the border to join Steelworkers rallies and express their solidarity with the strikers.

      2005  ASARCO declares Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing environmental liabilities as a primary cause. The company has 90+ sites in the United States alone where closures/cleanups are an issue, and 22 Superfund sites.

      2006  The Hayden, Arizona smelter roof collapses.

      2006  An explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine kills 65 miners. Napoleon Gomez, national president of Los Mineros calls the explosion, “industrial homicide.” In retaliation, the government files trumped-up charges against Gomez, forcing him to flee Mexico for Canada, where he becomes a guest of the Steelworkers.

      2006  The last building on the ASARCO/Tacoma site is demolished. The site is sold to a local developer, MC Construction, to build a high-end mix of resident homes, condominiums and commercial buildings.

      2006  Heather McMurray, an El Paso, Texas, environmental activist, breaks the story of Asarco’s illegal incineration of hazardous waste. The story is published in the New York Times.

      2006  A study by Michael Ketterer of Northern Arizona University links lead isotopes from El Paso, Anapra, New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez to Asarco’s ore from the Santa Eulalia mine in Mexico.

      2006 Richard Schmidt, the Corpus Christi federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy process, removes Grupo Mexico from control of ASARCO, replacing it with a board of creditors that includes the United Steelworkers. The Steelworkers sign a new contract with ASARCO that gives them input into company decision-making and protects health and retiree benefits.

      2007  Sterlite (Vedanta), a London-based mining company with assets in India and Africa, offers to purchase ASARCO.

      2007  The EPA releases its first reports of contamination in Hayden and Winkleman, Arizona, and asks the Arizona governor to list Hayden as a federal Superfund site.

      2007  The Mineros of Cananea strike against Grupo Mexico over health and safety conditions in the mine and community. Steelworkers from Arizona organize solidarity visits and aid for the striking miners of Cananea.

      2008  Grupo Mexico closes Ronquillo Hospital, the last public medical resource in Cananea.

      2008  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awards ASARCO its air permit to re-open operations in El Paso. Commissioner Soward reflects on the decision, saying, “Until the Texas legislature changes the very specific provision that they have adopted for air permit renewals, we have to comply with it…we really have no choice.”

      2008  ASARCO agrees to pay $4.8 million to the Hayden class action litigants. Legal fees take 80% of the settlement.

      January 2008  EPA sponsors informational meetings in Hayden; residents receive reports of yard testing; 15 homes are listed for emergency clean-up of arsenic, lead, copper and chromium.

      April 2008  EPA, ASARCO and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality reach agreement that ASARCO will administer and fund the clean-up in Hayden, including soil removal and replacement in affected yards. There will be no Superfund listing.

      2008-2009  Sterlite and Grupo Mexico engage in a bidding war for ASARCO.

      February 2009  ASARCO announces plans to close the El Paso plant permanently.

      November 2009  ASARCO emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is returned to Grupo Mexico.

      June 2010  The Mexican courts dissolve the collective bargaining relationship between los Mineros and Grupo Mexico. This allows the government to send thousands of federal police to break the strike. The mine is returned to Grupo Mexico’s control; the company offers to rehire strikers if they will accept severance benefits and join a company union. The majority of union workers have refused.