Groundwater & Soil Contamination Concerns Increasing Throughout Arizona

Charlie Parke December 5, 2012 2

By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press |

In Southern Arizona, South Bisbee homeowners were summoned to a meeting this summer with little detail on what to expect. A spokesmen accompanied by police told them they had a few months to leave their homes and would receive compensation. Residents were shocked at the short time frame to leave, confused about requirements to waive medical liability claims against local mining company Freeport-McMoRan and felt the compensation would provide little help with moving expenses and buying a new home. Homeowners expressed concerns that if they didn’t sign they might still have to leave and receive no compensation, but many spoke out causing Freeport to allow more time and provide more compensation to move. A lingering question is the legal liability as many residents have noticed increased sickness, dying plants and may face long term effects from heavy metal poisoning in the area.  Similar concerns are being expressed by many Arizona residents throughout the state.

Video by Al Loneprotestor:

The Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona cooperated with government contractors mining uranium on their lands to build nuclear devices. As the market for nuclear weapons and energy dried up many of the mines were simply abandoned with little to no clean-up. Today there are still 500 abandoned mines on Navajo lands. Children play near the mines, animals graze nearby and airborne dust blows particles across the land. The Environmental Protection Agency has only recently begun cleaning up the mines.

Near Tucson, Augusta Resource, a Canadian mining company is seeking to expand mining in the Santa Rita Mountains with the Rosemont Copper Mine. Residents have noted possible pollution to local water and the potential damage from a windstorm bringing particles to nearby communities. They point out that Rosemont Copper will be given two years to conduct operations before government oversight to set pollution standards.

Government oversight on pollution, especially related to mines, has been on the decline, perhaps making problems worse.  Mines are the biggest polluters in the state. Many have accused Freeport-McMoRan and other members of ALEC (a group lobbying for reduction of clean air and water standards) of pushing the so-called Polluter Protection Act through the Arizona legislature this year making it possible for companies to keep environmental violations secret in an audit and also to punish employees that speak out about information in the audits. Another bill this year reduced protection of underground water sources. A third bill made Freeport-McMoRan a water broker, allowing it to get credit for storing Central Arizona Project water all the while it pumps as much groundwater as it wants. There are currrently no limits on groundwater pumping for mines. Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club noted, “Cleaning up pollution is a lot more costly than preventing it. This aquifer protection program was a landmark program. Now, they’re whittling away at it and weakening it systematically.”