Workplace and Environmental Hazards in Hayden

Updated: Jan 16

Besides archiving local stories and memories of the community, the Hayden Library also houses artifacts, records and news reports. In particular, old maps and news clippings tell the story of challenging working conditions and the changing landscape.


Since 1910 mine tailings (the first waste products from ore extraction) have been stored in giant mounds called impoundments. According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, tailings disposal in this area in the early 20th century occurred at the rate of approximately 4,000 tons per day, increasing to 16,000 tons per day by 1952 and to 21,000 tons per day by 1960.


Over time the tailings mounds have become a pervasive and encroaching hazard. A 1988 article states,


"Where the present disposal area in Hayden is now, there used to be farm land with alfalfa fields, cattle, several houses and a general mercantile store … These former sites are now buried under millions of tons of tailings." (Johanna Teer, 1988, pg. 9)


Today, tailings impoundments resemble giant dunes, massed along the side of the road that connects Hayden and Winkleman to the Ray mine. In 1972 a slope failure (landslide) measuring 500 feet across, and 30-50 feet deep occurred at one of the impoundments. Since then, other failures have taken place: (http://www.azdeq.gov/environ/waste/sps/download/state/asarco.pdf), and many people in the community worry that a driving rainstorm or earthquake could destabilize the huge impoundments.



Tailings at Sunset--from Downtown Hayden

Community members also complain about ASARCO’s unregulated emissions—the state regulates the particulate size of emissions, but not the quantities of toxics produced—and they warn of ASARCO’s persistent practice of cranking up the furnaces at night.


In the 1980s and '90s, as concern about the dangers of mine tailings and emissions continued to mount, there was also growing outrage about working conditions–from grim accidents to hazardous exposures on the job. In 1990 Willie Craig, president of United Steelworkers Local 886 of Hayden conducted an investigation into health monitoring practices at ASARCO. We had been told that Craig had written a damning report, Asarco and Arsenic: The Right to Know, the Right to Live – A Case Study. But the report was not to be found in the Hayden library. Instead we stumbled on it at the Chicano Small Manuscripts section of the Arizona State University Library in Tempe.

A quiet yet insistent voice from the past, Craig’s report documented serious violations of worker and civil rights. As the report made clear, ASARCO’s national Medical Director, Charles Hine, based in San Francisco, had authored a policy of occupational health apartheid, a policy that created unequal standards of monitoring and protection for Hispanic and Anglo workers. While ASARCO claims that they revoked the policy around the time Craig’s report was released, it nevertheless offered evidence of a remarkable throwback to early and mid-20th century discriminatory and unethical practices, in which ethnic identity was used to manage and apportion risk.

Acting on a confidential warning issued by ASARCO’s retiring physician, Craig began an investigation into what became known as “the Hispanic factor.” The investigation revealed that while ASARCO at Hayden was required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regularly test the lung function of its workers, it was systematically altering the test results of Hispanic workers. Craig wrote,


"If a Hispanic employee has a pulmonary function of 85% of capacity when using the Company’s method, this employee is still rated as having 100% of pulmonary function because of the 15% margin the Company has, in fact, self-imposed upon all Hispanics being tested at the time."


Alarmed by the danger to its members posed by the company’s medical policy, the United Steelworkers contacted Dr. David Parkinson, a respected union physician from New York. Dr. Parkinson’s correspondence with ASARCO’s medical director is included in Craig’s report. In a letter to Hine, Dr. Parkinson confirmed that, “the predicated values in Hispanics were being reduced by 15%.”

Here are some significant excerpts from Craig’s investigation:

1) The lung function tests of Hispanic workers were systematically inflated by 15%. 2) ASARCOs medical director justified the doctored figures by claiming that Hispanic workers had a larger chest capacity than Anglos. 3) According to Craig, “During an OSHA inspection of the ASARCO Hayden Plant conducted in 1988, it was found that the working environment of the Hayden Plant violated the present OSHA standard 109 times over. Realistically speaking, Local 886 believes that this figure hasn’t changed for the better, if anything it has either remained basically the same or at times gotten worse in nature.” 4) The x-rays taken of Hayden workers were often unreadable, perhaps due to faulty, poorly maintained equipment. Also, x-rays were not properly recorded or communicated to workers. 5) The pulmonary function testing equipment at Hayden had not been properly calibrated for several years.


From Arsenic and Asarco: The Right to Know, the Right to Live

The report challenged the company and its medical staff, concluding:


"ASARCO and other parties have conspired with a sense of intense maliciousness to distort, misrepresent and mislead its employees, the public sector and various state and federal agencies ... withholding important information needed to protect the work force and the surrounding communities from excessive arsenic exposure. ASARCO and perhaps other parties have conspired jointly to look the other way and protect their interest regarding legal, moral and ethical responsibilities, and have done so for a number of years.


In April 1990 Local 886 reported on the “Hispanic Factor” in its publication, The Slag Dump. The Slag Dump, a member of the USWA Press Association, ran an extensive story to broadcast concerns to members in the region:


"The Company has basically formed their own standards … Hispanics at the Hayden plant can suffer a 15% loss in lung function with no apparent ill effect …This is a direct form of racial discrimination and thus is viewed as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by this local.


"The majority of those who work at the Hayden Plant are of Hispanic origin. When one compares other management techniques that have been imposed by management at the Hayden plant, such a discovery is not totally unthinkable. It is time that the community, the state and the nation become aware of the problems the copper workers face today."


Asarco and Arsenic: the Right to Know, the Right to Live includes a compilation of reports, data, testimony, analysis and ethical argument. It is a forceful and significant piece of work, the courageous, determined effort of a rank-and-file unionist who connected with consulting physicians to bring to light ASARCO's seriously disturbing practices.


Soon after the Arizona Republic published an article about Willie Craig’s report, he became the target of company threats and efforts to silence him. The union supported Craig in filing charges of retaliation against ASARCO through OSHA provisions. But we could not discover how the situation was resolved. Local folks told us that Willie Craig moved away. The company claims the Hispanic Factor policy was revoked. So the paper trail on ASARCO’s medical practices is not complete, and pressing questions remain: were the lung function tests of the primarily Hispanic workers at ASARCO’s Arizona mines and its El Paso, Texas smelter also altered? The workers have the right to know.

Willie Craig’s report reminds us that past practices that were discriminatory and undermined worker health may not be truly past. The Hispanic factor bears similarities to the infamous Tuskegee practice of NOT treating known African American syphilis patients from the 1940s to 1970s. An identifiable risk, with clear advisories for public health protections, was ignored because of the ethnic identity of the people involved. Workplace safety, health and environment committees must remain ever vigilant and mindful of corporate policies, records, reports, data, referrals, professional consultations, and their potential to create profound impacts on worker health and the community environment.


Next: Hayden, Arizona Today


Sources:

Arsenic and Asarco: The Right to Know, the Right to Live – A Case Study, prepared by the Investigations Committee, William Craig, United Steelworkers Local 886; 1990.


Craig, Willie. “Is Asarco Practicing Racial Discrimination?” The Slag Dump, April 1990; pp. 1 – 3.


Teer, Johanna Seeley, “Hayden Takes Steps to Have Its Own Identity,” Copper Basin News, 1988 series.