“The convertors would spew it out,” employee Arturo Hernandez recalled, referring to molten metal. “You’d see the ground, the dirt, catch on fire. . . . If you slip, you’d be like a little pat of butter, melting away.”
Hernandez was describing work at ASARCO El Paso, a smelter and onetime economic powerhouse situated in the city’s heart just a few yards north of the Mexican border. For more than a century the smelter produced vast quantities of copper—along with millions of tons of toxins. During six of those years, the smelter also burned highly toxic industrial waste under the guise of processing copper, with dire consequences for worker and community health.
Copper Stain is a history of environmental injustice, corporate malfeasance, political treachery, and a community fighting for its life. The book gives voice to nearly one hundred Mexican Americans directly affected by these events. Their frank and often heartrending stories, published here for the first time, evoke the grim reality of laboring under giant machines and lava-spewing furnaces while turning mountains of rock into copper ingots, all in service to an employer largely indifferent to workers’ welfare. With horror and humor, anger, courage, and sorrow, the authors and their interviewees reveal how ASARCO subjected its employees and an unsuspecting public to pollution, diseases, and early death—with little in the way of compensation.
Elaine Hampton and Cynthia C. Ontiveros weave this eloquent testimony into a cautionary tale of toxic exposure, community activism, and a corporate employer’s dubious relationship with ethics—set against the political tug-of-war between industry’s demands and government’s obligation to protect the health of its people and the environment.
“Copper Stain is a powerful work of grassroots scholarship exposing the tremendous physical and social costs of ASARCO’s El Paso smelter. By allowing the former workers to tell the stories of their declining health and the exploitation they have faced through their lives, Hampton and Ontiveros make a critical addition to our knowledge of environmental and workplace injustice.”—Erik Loomis, author of Empire of Timber and Out of Sight
“From Tacoma, Washington, to San Luis Potosí, Mexico, ASARCO’s smelters have been lacing people’s bodies with contaminants for well over a century now. Hampton and Ontiveros’s study of El Paso presents the fruit of extensive research and interviews with dozens of the central actors in this drama. It delivers the human experience of this chronic violence with the immediacy and care that it demands.”—Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, Professor of History, McGill University
“Modern economies run on copper, but Copper Stain
unearths the costs—human and environmental—in ways we rarely see. Through careful historical research and illuminating oral histories, Hampton and Ontiveros excavate the tragic consequences of ASARCO’s frequently unconscionable and sometimes illegal actions in El Paso. The stories collected here remind us how environmental injustice and violence accrue in the bodies of workers, communities, and Earth itself.”—Adam M. Sowards,
author of The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation
“…those interested in historical and contemporary struggles for environmental justice will find Hampton and Ontiveros’s study thought provoking and complementary to the growing studies that link the effect of pollutants to the environment, local communities, and public health.” —Southwestern Historical Quarterly