MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

NEWS RELEASE: PHELPS DODGE SUED FOR HIDING TOXIC RELEASE DATA AT SMELTERS IN SOUTHWEST NEW MEXICO
COULD COST PD MUCH AS $90-MILLION IN FINES

CONTACTS:

Don Manning
Local 890-USWA
Hurley, NM
(505) 537-3992
Paul Robinson
Southwest Research and Information Center
Albuquerque, NM, (505) 262-1862
Simeon Herskovits, Counsel
Western Environmental Law Center
Taos, NM, (505) 751-0351

ALBUQUERQUE, NM, Sept. 15, 1998 - Local 890 of the steelworkers union and Albuquerque-based Southwest Research & Information Center are going to federal court to force Phelps Dodge to disclose hidden data about the use and release of large amounts of toxic materials at its copper smelting operations in southwest New Mexico.

In a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed here today in Federal District Court, the plaintiffs claim Phelps Dodge has violated the federal Right to Know law since at least 1995 and perhaps as far back as 1988 by failing to fully disclose reportable toxic emissions at its Chino Mine near Hurley in Grant County.

In a separate action yesterday, the union and the environmental research organization also advised Phelps Dodge that it has 60 days to fully disclose all reportable toxic discharges at its Hidalgo smelting operations near Playas, New Mexico, or face a similar multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

In addition to requesting full public disclosure of reportable toxic emissions at Chino, the suit asks for, among other things, the statutory maximum fine of $25,000 a day per violation, as applicable, increasing to $27,000 a day per violation, as applicable, from January 1997 forward.

Combined, the two legal actions could cost Phelps Dodge up to $90-million in fines.

Among other things, the union-SRIC suit alleges that the company's claimed exemption from the Right to Know law, made in response to the threatened lawsuit, has no merit. The lawsuit also alleges that Phelps Dodge continues to violate disclosure laws at its Chino smelter, despite a revised emissions report issued "voluntarily" by Phelps Dodge after receiving a Notice of Intent to Sue.

Commenting on today's actions, Local 890 President Don Manning accused Phelps Dodge of "putting itself above the law by withholding relevant environmental information - the absence of which could jeopardize the health of employees, their families and other residents in nearby communities."

"Soil and air pollution testing data from a state-sponsored cleanup agreement recently confirmed the presence of worrisome toxic metals in and around Hurley at levels that exceed government standards," Manning said.

"By falsely claiming an exemption to fully disclose such toxic releases," Manning said, "Phelps Dodge reaffirms its disrespect for the law and the public's Right to Know the kind of environmental damage being done to their communities."

In its revised emissions report, Phelps Dodge acknowledges that an additional 10 previously unreported toxic substances have been released into the environment at the Chino smelter, including more than 10 tons a year of toxic metals discharged into the air.

Nonetheless, the lawsuit claims, Phelps Dodge continues to hide releases of such pollutants as cobalt and under-estimates the discharge of other reportable pollutants such as arsenic, cadmium and manganese.

The lawsuit also claims Phelps Dodge should be required to disclose all reportable emissions at the Chino Mine, not just the smelter. The claim is based on the fact that the mine is a "multi-establishment facility," as described by Phelps Dodge in its response to the Notice of intent to Sue. As such, according to the lawsuit, federal law requires emissions disclosure for all such operations, when the "value added" from regulated processes exceeds non-regulated processes, as it does at Chino, based on independent calculations.

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