Center for Biological Diversity

Ray Mine Land Exchange

2-25-2003: Press Release

9-19-2001: Press Release

Reports and other information on the Asarco Corporation:

Environmental Contaminents in Sediment and Fish of Mineral Creek and the Middle Gila River, Arizona. by US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1997.

EPA's 1999 Toxic Release Inventory for Arizona. ASARCO's Hayden smelter is Arizona's biggest polluter.

Don’t Waste Arizona, a group concerned with epidemic levels of lung cancer and lead poisoning in the Asarco smelter town of Hayden, Arizona.

A special feature by a Helena, MT newspaper on Asarco’s toxic smelting and refining operation in East Helena.

Breakdown of Asarco’s corporate lobbying expenditures.

For information on land exchange and mining reform efforts:

Western Land Exchange Project (WLXP) homepage.

WLXP Citizen’s Guide to Land Exchanges.

On September 18, 2001, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Land Exchange Project, and Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management for its approval of the Ray Mine Land Exchange. The exchange, approved by the Tucson Field Office of the BLM, would give 10,976 acres of public land—adjacent to the White Canyon Wilderness area—to the Asarco Mining Corporation, in exchange for 7,300 acres of the company’s private holdings. The expansion would allow Asarco to expand the Ray mine, an open-pit copper operation approximately 65 miles east of Phoenix.

Located on Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Gila River, the mine has operated since 1948 with little environmental review or oversight. Environmental contamination at the mine—including routine spills of industrial pollutants such as copper, cadmium, and beryllium—is so severe that in 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality sued Asarco for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. An environmental contaminants report issued in 1997 by Fish and Wildlife noted that copper levels in fish found on Mineral Creek are the highest recorded nationally. In one survey, the Creek was found entirely devoid of aquatic life.

Ray Mine
photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Additionally, the mine uses approximately 20,000 gallons of groundwater per minute at the mine, resulting in reduced flows in Mineral Creek and the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, critical habitat for endangered species including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, spikedace, and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

The Ray Mine complex and Asarco’s associated Hayden smelter also pose grave risks to human health. According to EPA’s Toxic Releases Inventory, a yearly report required under the Community Right to Know Act, the Hayden smelter is Arizona’s biggest polluter, releasing levels of arsenic and lead far in excess of any other Arizona smelter. The town of Hayden—comprised predominantly of low-income Hispanic residents—suffers levels of lung cancer 50 percent higher than in the Tucson and Phoenix areas.

White Canyon Wilderness, area immediately adjacenet to the exchanged area and mine expansion.
photo by Fran Dostollio

Unfortunately, the Ray mine land exchange is only the latest example of BLM trading away our irreplaceable public lands to grease the skids for multi-national mining corporations. For example, in the Dos Pobres land exchange, the BLM Safford Field Office is proposing to trade away over 17,000 acres of public land to the Phelps Dodge corporation in exchange for less than 4,000 acres of private land so that Phelps Dodge can establish two enormous open-pit copper mines. The Safford Field Office also recently completed an exchange allowing Phelps Dodge to expand its monstrous Morenci copper mine. In that exchange, PD received 3,758 acres of public land in exchange for only 1,200 private acres. Together, these three exchanges would yield a net loss of nearly 20,000 acres of land. More alarmingly, BLM's corporate giveaway would greatly expand mining operations along the middle Gila River valley, further stressing this already imperiled ecosystem.