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Anamax Copper Smelting

The facility once known as the Anamax Copper Smelter has gone through several changes in name and ownership. Today the smelter is part of the Cyprus Miami mine in the historic Globe-Miami Mining District. The facility includes the smelter and a rod plant in addition to the mining operations, and has been in operation for more than 80 years.

Anamax Mining

The name "Anamax" was first conceived as part of the merger between Amax Mining Company and Banner Mining, which then developed a partnership with Anaconda Corporation. Anaconda-Amax, or "Anamax", was formed in 1970 and, between 1973 and 1983, extracted 1.3 billion tons of ore from the Banner site using heavy equipment.

The smelter was operated as the Anamax Smelter, and that is the name by which it is sometimes known even today, though it was operated in decades prior and since under different names, and under different ownership.

The Company Today

Amax continued to operate the smelter even after the Anamax partnership ended. In 1993, Cyprus Minerals and Amax merged to create Cyprus Amax Minerals Company. The company maintained the smelter and other facilities at the Arizona site.

The company was then acquired by Phelps Dodge in 2000.

In 2007, Freeport-McMoRan acquired Phelps Dodge. All of the facilities formerly operated by any of the entities that had been acquired by Phelps Dodge began operations under Freeport-McMoRan.

The Dangers of Smelting

The smelting process is arguably the most environmentally damaging part of copper mining. Smelters produce toxic emissions and waste that was, for most of the 20th Century, disposed of in illegal and unsound ways. By the late 1970s, the smelters in Arizona, including the Anamax smelter, were out of compliance with government standards. Faced with the expense of bringing the smelters into compliance, companies like Phelps Dodge simply closed the facilities.

Smelters and Asbestos

For the majority of the 1900s, whenever excessive heat or fire was a danger, asbestos was chosen as an insulator. Plants such as Anamax Copper Smelting, as a result, were often built using asbestos-containing materials. Resistance to conducting electrical current is one of the other properties of asbestos. As a result, asbestos was used throughout almost all metal foundries, as refining metal not only involves high temperatures but also utilizes large amounts of electric power. Safety clothing, lab equipment and bench and counter tops were also made with ACM (asbestos-containing material) because of its resistance to chemicals. There is no question that asbestos was extremely effective at protecting against high heat or fire. This ability, however, came with a terrible price in terms of human health.

In general, chrysotile was the kind of asbestos utilized. In spite of scientific proof to the contrary, for a long time chrysotile was touted by companies as the "good asbestos". Used for decades in the form of asbestos-containing transite in aluminum smelters throughout the United States, chrysotile - often mixed with brown or blue asbestos - was finally banned for construction purposes in the 1970s.

Like cement, asbestos transite could be laminated, sprayed onto ductwork and pipes and molded into working surfaces. This form of asbestos did not present a health hazard so long as it was solid. Tiny fibers of asbestos are released into the atmosphere, however, as this transite ages and becomes prone to becoming powdery. When it is in this state, it is considered friable, a term used for materials that are easy to crush.

The Problem with Friable Asbestos

Asbestos particles, when friable, can be readily dispersed in the air. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause diseases such as asbestosis or cancer. Pleural mesothelioma, an unusual and all too often deadly cancer of the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the chest cavity), is strongly linked with asbestos exposure. When those airborne particles settle on food or drinks and are then swallowed, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can result, although they are rarer than pleural mesothelioma.

In the last twenty years medical researchers have discovered a lot about the risks that accompany asbestos exposure; therefore there are stringent regulations controlling its use. The use of asbestos was more common, however, when most copper plants were built. And even now, asbestos from the past may be the source of danger if it is mishandled during remodeling and demolition projects.

A Time Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting illnesses may take many, many years to appear - often decades after the worker has left the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and asbestos cancer - shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea), pain in the chest or abdomen and a chronic cough - can easily be mistaken for the symptoms of other disorders. It is very important, therefore, that everyone that were employed by or lived near smelters such as Anamax Copper Smelting tell their doctors about the chance of exposure to asbestos. Such information can enable physicians to make a timely diagnosis; especially with mesothelioma cancer, the earlier it is caught, the higher the odds of surviving or at least of enjoying an improved quality of life.



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