Secret and blatant toxic dumping on Native Americans and along the border
Article and photo by Brenda Norrell
EL PASO -- Asarco's copper smelting plant is a monument to environmental racism, a visual proclamation of how corporations poison communities.
By locating in downtown El Paso, on the border of Juarez, Mexico, alongside the Rio Grande, Asarco violated every aspect of human rights and decency. Asarco poisoned families in the US and Mexico, leaving children with diseases and learning disabilities.
The Justice Department announced a settlement involving Asarco in December. In one of the largest environmental bankruptcies in U.S. history, the American Smelting and Refining Company, known as Asarco, will pay a record $1.79 billion to settle claims for hazardous waste pollution at 80 sites in as many as 20 states.
In El Paso, Asarco's pollution was blasted into Juarez.
NPR reports, "As a result, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals fell on the colonias and schools and playgrounds of El Paso's sister city, where federal and state regulators had no jurisdiction.
'It is very clear that a majority of what came out of that flue and was deposited over 100 years landed in Mexico,' says Texas state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, one of those who led the fight to close down Asarco.
Colonia Ladrillera, in Juarez, is located less than a half-mile from the smelter. People here complained of skin rashes, allergies and asthma when Asarco was operating."
While Asarco's complete disregard for health is abrupt and visible, much of the toxic and detrimental waste dumped in and around Indian country has been invisible to the human eye.
Recently, it was exposed that Cyprus Tohono Corporation copper mine, a former Phelps Dodge subsidiary, contaminated the groundwater with uranium on the Tohono O'odham Nation, 32 miles south of Casa Grande. Already, O'odham activists halted a planned toxic dump in their ceremonial community of Quitovac, Sonora, south of the border. The US attempted to create a toxic dump in the ceremonial community of Quitovac, so US factories in Mexico could circumvent the law and dump there. US manufacturers are required to return toxic waste from factories in Mexico to the country of origin of the raw materials.
Cold War uranium mining on the Navajo Nation and Pueblos left behind a legacy of disease and death for Navajos and Pueblos. Native people were sent to their deaths in the uranium mines without protective clothing, even after the US was aware of the risk to life. The radioactive dust was eaten on the food in the communities. On the Navajo Nation, radioactive tailings remain strewn across the land.
Meanwhile, the United States' biological and chemical warfare testing remains secret in most cases. However, the nerve gas testing next to the Goshute Indian Nation in northwest Utah was exposed. The Army's nerve gas testing resulted in dead sheep near Dugway Proving Ground in 1968. Still today the biological and chemical warfare testing base remains in operation as a training ground for troops to Afghanistan.
While researching Dugway a few years ago, I discovered toxic inventories that reveal toxic sites in and around Indian country. One of those sites is in the western portion of the Navajo Nation. It stands apart as a mystery.
The unidentified project was listed on the Dept. of Defense Native American Environmental Tracking System site as “Nauaya Gra Res AX.” It was listed as having "no information," with impacts unknown. The only other reference to "Nauaya Gra Res AX" was in a DOD Arizona toxic cleanup citation stating the Nauaya Gra Res AX site is in Coconino County, Ariz. It states there are "no records," and there was a cleanup cost of $15 million.
What was the toxic substance that the US dumped on the Navajo Nation? There are no records of it.
The Arizona Prisoner of War Camps are also listed as former Department of Defense sites for toxic cleanup. The Prisoner of War camp sites include Eloy I, Eloy II, Florence, Duncan, Maricopa County, Continental, Cortaro, Queen Creek and Safford.
The region of Eloy and Florence in southern Arizona, where the United States imprisoned Japanese during WWII, is now the site of another human rights tragedy.
In keeping with this legacy of racism, imprisonment and oppression, an immigration prison is now operated in Eloy by the private prison profiteer CCA, Corrections Corporation of America. Contracted by ICE, CCA profiteers from misery and racism in the United States.
NPR named its program on Asarco as "A Toxic Century." The name is appropriate and not just in regard to toxic elements.
The trail of environmental racism in the United States is a trail of US toxic racism and genocide.
This remains the most censored issue, combined with the real reasons for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also see: 'Dr. Jekyll Obama Goes Nuclear" Obama targets black community in Georgia with the risk of disease and death from new nuclear reactors. Already, the area is home to US warmongers and the "intelligence" community:
Depleted uranium dumping in Socorro, NM, region is home to Navajos and Pueblos:
Former DOD sites in Arizona:
Toxic sites on First Nations Canada
US map of DOD contaminated sites. Click on each state:
Read and listen to NPR on Asarco, Feb. 2010: A Toxic Century