FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Dec. 10, 2009
OLYMPIA – The state of Washington has received roughly $188 million to help repair environmental damage caused by mining giant ASARCO.
It’s the largest payout in the history of the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), the state’s “Superfund” law which Washington voters approved in 1988.
Last month, the U.S. District Court in Texas affirmed an earlier bankruptcy court approval of a reorganization plan filed by ASARCO’s parent company, Grupo Mexico. The plan includes payments to creditors seeking funds for environmental damages, including Washington.
On Wednesday, funds from the case were transferred to the state treasury. Most of the money then was deposited in the state’s Cleanup Settlement Account. About $16 million was deposited in the State Toxics Cleanup Account to reimburse the state’s past costs related to ASARCO sites.
“The outcome in this case means ASARCO is being held responsible for the damages its past practices caused to our communities and our environment,” said Ted Sturdevant, director of the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology).
Current plans call for Ecology to use the funds to clean up contamination at former ASARCO sites. ASARCO operated smelters in Tacoma and Everett, plus mines in northwest and eastern Washington. Air pollution from the Tacoma smelter settled over a vast region – more than 1,000 square miles of the Puget Sound basin. Elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals polluted soil around the region. In addition, arsenic-tainted slag from the Tacoma smelter was dumped in the B&L Woodwaste landfill.
“Attorneys in our Ecology Division and experts at the Department of Ecology worked for years, leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of compensation for the environmental damage inflicted by ASARCO,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Even in the face of ASARCO’s bankruptcy, our team didn’t give up. Today’s outcome is the result of thousands of hours of legal and technical work, against tremendous odds.”
Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark noted that the Washington Department of Natural Resources will receive $2 million to remove more than 67,000 square feet of derelict creosote-laden docks — mostly from state-owned aquatic lands — at Point Ruston in Tacoma. The docks were part of ASARCO’s smelter operation there. Removal of the thousands of creosote pilings opens the door to restoring the nearshore next to the former ASARCO site. This payment represents the majority of the funding needed for the work. DNR is working with public and private partners to fund the rest for cleanup and habitat restoration.
“Ridding the aquatic ecosystem of these contaminants and restoring ecosystem function not only contributes greatly to the cleanup of Puget Sound, but confirms our commitment to a clean and healthy Sound for this and future generations,” Goldmark said. “And into the future, we must find ways to support business and protect our important ecosystems at the same time.”
In 2005, ASARCO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Texas after the price of copper – one of the company’s main commodities – dropped significantly. After the copper market markedly improved in 2007, ASARCO’s mines and smelters became more profitable, which made a bankruptcy court-approved reorganization of the company more viable. Through the bankruptcy court process, several companies competed to sponsor ASARCO’s reorganization. The successful sponsor was Grupo Mexico. The court-approved reorganization allows Grupo Mexico to take control of ASARCO’s assets in exchange for full payment of ASARCO’s debts.
In response to the company’s bankruptcy filing, the Washington Attorney General’s Office filed a series of claims for past and future costs and natural resource damages. Ultimately, Washington reached settlements with Asarco for the value of each of the state’s claims. The federal bankruptcy court approved these settlements:
- $111 million for the Tacoma Smelter Plume site
- $44.7 million for the Everett smelter site
- $22 million for the B&L Woodwaste site in Pierce County
- $10.8 million for old mining sites in northwest and eastern Washington
Jim Pendowski. Ecology Toxics Cleanup Program manager, 360-407-7177
Seth Preston, Ecology communications manager, 360-407-6848; 360-584-5744 cell;
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725;
Jane Chavey, Senior Communications Manager, Washington Department of Natural Resources, 360-902-1721
Information on major Asarco sites: