ASARCO is one of the country’s leading producers of copper, lead, alloys and minerals, and precious metals. Each year, the company’s mines – which are located mainly in the Southwestern United States – produce some 400 million pounds of copper, as well as silver and gold bars, crude nickel sulfates, selenium, tellurium and other metal products. The Mission, Silver Bell, and the Ray, all located in Arizona, are three of ASARCO’s most significant mining operations.
ASARCO was founded as the American Smelting and Refining Company in 1899, when several already-existing mines in Colorado and Mexico merged together. The company continued to grow throughout the next century by acquiring mines in the Southwest U.S., Mexico and South America, though many of those were sold or closed during the late 1990s and 2000s. The company’s name was changed to ASARCO in 1975.
In 1999, ASARCO was purchased by the diversified mining firm Grupo Mexico for nearly $1.2 billion. Six years later, ASARCO filed for bankruptcy, citing an unmanageable number of asbestos-related lawsuits.
Products Manufactured by ASARCO that Contained Asbestos
ASARCO’s ties to asbestos can be traced to several of the company’s subsidiaries. One, CAPCO Pipe Company, Inc., also known as Cement Asbestos Products Company, was a manufacturer of asbestos cement pipes used mainly for sewer and water systems. A second subsidiary, Lac d’Amiante du Quebec Ltd., also known as Lake Asbestos of Quebec, Ltd. and LAQ Canada, Ltd., supplied raw asbestos fibers from mines in Canada.
In one noteworthy project of the late 1950s, ASARCO, through its Lake Asbestos of Quebec subsidiary, turned the two-mile long Black Lake in eastern Canada into one of the world’s largest open-pit asbestos mines. The $32.5 million project – which required ASARCO to completely drain the lake and lower its floor – had a goal of supplying about 100,000 tons of asbestos each year, adding an estimated 7 percent to the world’s supply of asbestos. Most of that asbestos was eventually exported to the United States.
Products manufactured or distributed by ASARCO that contained asbestos include (but are not limited to)
- Cement Pipes (through its subsidiary, Cement Asbestos Products Company)
- Raw Asbestos Fiber (through it’s subsidiary, Lake Asbestos of Quebec)
Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Today experts and the public are well aware of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. That is, we know that when the long, crystalline fibers that comprise the mineral are inhaled, they can become lodged in a person’s lung tissue and cause serious diseases like asbestosis, a chronic inflammation of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a rare and inoperable type of lung cancer.
But for decades, from the late 1800s until the 1970s, the use of asbestos in the United States was not regulated, and thousands of workers were exposed to the substance every day on the job. In an extreme example, individuals who worked at one of ASARCO’s asbestos mines in Canada, such as the Black Lake mine operated by Lake Asbestos of Quebec, were constantly surrounded by raw asbestos fibers, putting them at a clear risk of asbestos exposure.
It wasn’t just mine workers whose health was threatened, though; in fact, a huge web of people, both producers and consumers of asbestos products, could have been impacted. The asbestos fibers taken from ASARCO’s mines were shipped mostly to the United States, where they may have been used to create anything from pipe insulation to gaskets to lawn furniture. Factory workers who manufactured these products in various facilities were put at risk if they inhaled deadly asbestos fibers in storerooms or on the assembly line. Truck drivers who transported the raw fibers or, in some cases, finished asbestos products, may have been exposed. And years later, when these products began to age and break down in people’s homes and businesses, they released asbestos dust into the air and put untold thousands of Americans at risk of breathing the cancer-causing fibers.
Although Lake Asbestos of Quebec has not milled asbestos since the late 1980s and CAPCO has not produced asbestos-containing products for over a decade, by the late 1990s, both CAPCO and LAQ had been named in thousands of asbestos lawsuits.
In 2009, four years after their voluntary Chapter 11 filing, ASARCO emerged from bankruptcy protection after Grupo Mexico agreed to retain control of the company. Under the bankruptcy plan, the company agreed to pay $750 million into a trust to handle the claims of 95,000 asbestos-related lawsuits stemming from ASARCO’s operation of Cement Asbestos Products Co. and Lake Asbestos of Quebec Ltd. Lawyers for the plaintiffs initially requested that more than $2.6 billion be put into the fund.Sources
ASARCO – About Us
ASARCO – Company History
ASARCO LLC Company Profile
Asarco LLC Files Plan to Settle Debt
“Canadian Lake: Asbestos Mine (1957)”
“Asarco OKs Mexican Bid”
“Grupo Mexico to Merge Mining Units in $6 Billion Deal After Asarco Gains”