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 Environmental and Health Disaster in Cottonwood

Copper Slag Re-Processing Operations in the center of Cottonwood and its resulting ongoing toxicity to our City and Children.   

Click HERE to learn how to write a statement of impact that will help us involve the Attorney General in this matter. 

Located at the center of Cottonwood, lies approximately 3 million tons of copper mining waste called “slag.”  In 2008, a company called Mineral Research, expressed interest in reprocessing the slag by crushing it into a fine particulate dust and selling it.


Numerous City Council Meetings and planning and Zoning meetings took place where the proposed Slag Crushing Operation was discussed.  The main citizen concerns were over toxicity of the slag when crushed into a dust and breathed in. 


Minerals Research owner and authorized representative responded to citizen concerns at these meetings by stating:

-Their company had been conducting a similar operation in Ajo for the past 15 years.

-They have had no complaints from property owners because they collect and sell the dust, so the operation does NOT create a dust issue for neighbors.”     

-the safety was proven and copper slag dust poses no health risks. 

-They had never received a citation from the Department of Environmental Quality in their 15 years of operating in Ajo. 

After my child began experiencing rashes and asthma after playing at the Cottonwood Childrens park, I began a citizens investigation into Minerals Research and the toxicity of slag particulate I noticed at the playground. 

A records request from Ajo revealed that at the time Minerals research claimed on record that they had never received a dust complaint in Ajo, that 14 complaints and a town meeting relating to toxic slag dust blanketing the town were submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality and forwarded to Minerals research.  So Council was lied to when Minerals Research said on record that no complaints had ever been filed against them.

A records request from the Pima Department of Environmental Quality reveals approximately 9 notices of environmental violations, so much so that the PDEQ actually sued Minerals Research several times for dust emissions in which they were required to pay large fines and were distinguished as a “high priority violator”   So the Commission was lied to, again, on record, AT the meeting where Minerals Reserarch's Conditional Use Permit was granted by the City of Cottonwood, when Minerals Research stated they had never received a single violation from PDEQ. 

Multiple Studies in the national library of medicine, linked below, prove that copper slag dust can permanently damage lungs after a single inhalation and cause lung tumors and cancers.

Minerals research own Materials Data Safety Sheet states that a health hazard may occur through inhalation of dust, that exposure levels of harmful chemicals like arsenic, barium, lead, mercury, and more could exceed regulations.  It recommends anyone using the slag particulate use respirator protection.  It notes that arsenic is found in the slag particulate in levels that exceed allowable limits.  There is a warning that “This product contains chemicals known in the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  

Slag dust is black and strongly magnetic while our native soil is light colored clay and not magnetic.  There is no other source for strongly magnetic black dust in Cottonwood that has been identified other than the slag processing facilities fugitive slag dust.  Therefore, using a simple magnet test anyone with a high-powered magnet can do at home, has revealed slag dust at the Cottonwood Kids Park, the Library, the Rec Center, the Cottonwood Elementary School, the Police Station, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Center, the low-income housing near the operation, the storage units and office spaces close to the operation and many other locations throughout the City.  The toxic effects of inhaling and ingesting copper slag dust can be cumulative and permanent.

A comprehensive oversight report of everything that has taken place with this situation has been complied and itemizes the many violations of law and harms to health of Cottonwood residents. 


So far, the Cottonwood City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission have declined to allow open public discussions on the environmental disaster and have declined the opportunity to stop the contamination, and have declined to enforce their own codes, stipulations, and agreements in this matter.  Which is nothing short of gross negligence.

It is interesting to note that the City Council worked out a private agreement where the slag processing plant pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to the City, paid in quarterly installments, for as long as the operation is allowed to continue.  In all, it is estimated the City of Cottonwood will privately receive close to $1,500,000, so long as they allow this operation and its resulting contamination to continue for the next 15-20 years. 

Many of us feel it is completely unacceptable to put financial gain over the health and safety of our community and especially our children who are at greatest risk of potential lifelong illness and even worse, death, from chronic expose to the toxic slag dust dispersing throughout our City.

The laws on this matter are crystal clear, and we will not stop until the law is fully upheld and enforced. 

6-6-2018 blowing slag dust picture.jpeg

Is Copper Slag Dust Toxic??

If you ask those who financially benefit from the slag re-processing, they will tell you with a smile that the slag and its dust is completely non-toxic.  City records are littered with citizen complaints from citizens complaining about the health effects from the slag dust.  Every time, those complaining are reassured there is no significant dust contaminating the town and that the slag dust is totally safe to human health.  But what does the science say??

The Science of Slag Dust Toxicity and its harmful effects on human health.

The specific heavy metals and toxic substances identified in the copper slag in Cottonwood are:

Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Molybdenum, Nickel, Selenium, Silver, Thallium, Vanadium, Zinc, Crystaline Silica, Iron Oxide, Silicates, Alpha-Alumina, Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, Potassium Oxide.

This information can be found on the MRI Materials Data Safety Sheet found HERE.

This study comes from the National Library of Medicine, please click on the title above to be linked directly to the study to read it yourself.   This is perhaps the most comprehensive study and compilation of information on the toxicity of Copper Slag Dust. 

"Carcinogens, suspect carcinogens, and other toxic elements were detected in all bulk samples, and area and personal air samples. "

When an intratracheal installation of copper slag dust was given to rats, significantly elevated levels of pulmonary fibrosis was reported.  Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. This thickened, stiff tissue makes it more difficult for your lungs to work properly. As pulmonary fibrosis worsens, you become progressively more short of breath. The lung damage caused by pulmonary fibrosis can't be repaired or reversed.

"Fe (Iron) was measured greater than 240 μg/m3 in all personal air samples (excluding plant manager). It is known that iron oxide exposure is associated with “siderosis”, a type of pneumoconiosis.   Exposure to both iron oxide and silica or silicates is associated with mixed dust pneumoconiosis (MDP) or “siderosilicosis.”"

 "As (Arsenic) is a known carcinogen and exposure to As is associated with skin, lung, liver, and kidney cancers. In fact, recent evidence suggests that lung cancer is the most common cause of arsenic-related fatality."

"We observed strong correlations between personal respirable dust levels and respirable silica, as well as moderate correlations between personal total dust levels and the metals As (Arsenic) and Fe (Iron.) These correlations signify the importance of controlling overall dust levels to reduce human exposure to harmful elements that contribute to lung disease, such as As and Fe."   Slag dust, containing these known toxins, are being dispersed into the community day and night, shown by video evidence collected, testimony from people living and working in the area of slag dust fallout, and is being substantiated through scientific testing.  We have children living in the areas that are being exposed constantly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Evidence has been gathered showing this fine slag dust is covering the inside of homes (where children live), offices, storage units and more in that vicinity. 



This abstract comes to use from Oxford Academic, please click on the title above to be linked directly to the study to read it yourself.  

Copper slag is commonly used as a substitute for silica sand. These slags have been reported to contain heavy metals.

Our research aims were to identify exposure-related differences between slag sources, quantify health-related aerosol fractions for comparison with occupational exposure limits and correlate total and inhalable aerosol with metal concentrations. Two commercially available copper slags were used to perform indoor and outdoor abrasive blasting. Personal samples were collected using 37 mm cassettes and a Respicon sampler and analyzed for total, inhalable, thoracic and respirable aerosol and heavy metals. Lead and arsenic concentrations exceeded applicable OELs in 37 and 15 min, respectively. Inhalable and respirable aerosol concentrations exceeded applicable OELs in 15 min. Statistically significant differences between slag sources were found for arsenic, lead, chromium and titanium concentrations in the total, inhalable, thoracic and respirable fractions. Total and inhalable aerosol regressions with selected metals showed r2 values of 0.91–0.98. The results of this study raise questions concerning the efficacy of using copper slag as a substitute abrasive based solely on the premise that it contains <1% free silica.

This study comes from the National Library of Medicine, please click on the title above to be linked directly to the study to read it yourself.  

In this study, rats were given A SINGLE does of copper slag dust into the lungs and were tracked after for health effects.  The results show that "significant numbers of primary lung tumors, principally adenocarcinomas and adenomas, were seen in the copper slag" rats.  "On the basis of the tumor incidence data, one must conclude that both copper slags tested in this study are carcinogenic to rats."   The reason we test on rats is because we know if its harmful and carcinogenic to them, its harmful and carcinogenic to humans.  

And remember this is after a single exposure of slag dust to the lungs!

Minerals research own Materials Data Safety Sheet states that:

- a health hazard may occur through inhalation of dust.

 - Exposure levels of harmful chemicals like arsenic, barium, lead, mercury, and more could exceed regulations. 


- Recommends anyone using the slag particulate use respirator protection. 

- It notes that arsenic is found in the slag particulate in levels that exceed allowable limits. 


There is a warning that “This product contains chemicals known in the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  


Despite MRI making on the record assertions at the meetings to gain approval for the necessary Conditional Use Permit that the crushed slag dust is completely safe and poses no health risks, their own safety documentations states differently.  Please click the link above to view their safety documentation yourself.   MRI specifically states on their safety data sheet that:  

"Supplier makes no express or implied warranty that the Material conforms with any applicable safety or environmental statutes, rules, or regulations. Supplier furnishes this information and its Material on the conditions that the person or legal entity purchasing and receiving it makes his, her, or its own determination as to the suitability of the Material for a particular purpose and assumes the risk of the use of the Material, including, but not limited to, the risks that arise from any environmental restrictions or prohibitions that may apply thereto."

Does this Toxic Copper Slag dust travel off the MRI Facility??

For years, residents and businesses downwind from the MRI Facility have complained about the toxic slag dust infiltrating their homes, businesses, vehicles, and properties.  There is extensive documentation (and growing) on the slag dust infiltration and the negative effects it is having on our community.

The OCS Child Safety Group Founder, Jennifer Richards visited the area just two times, and captured the video below.  She was only exposed to inhalation of the blowing slag dust for approximately 30 minutes total, but her lungs burned so bad for the three days after that she will not likely be returning to the site, especially considering the study that showed rats got lung tumors after just a single exposure to the lungs of copper slag dust.  If you are a citizen who has videos, pictures or other documentation of slag dust blowing, slag dust accumulation on your business or property, please email them to and we will include them in future videos to inform the public.

Toxic Slag dust at the Cottonwood Kids Park in 12th street.
 Our local "dust" is comprised mostly of caliche, is white to blonde in color and is not magnetic.  The slag dust is primarily Iron (with aluminum, arsenic, barium, and other elements) is dark black and is highly magnetic.  The only point source for black magnetic dust identified in Cottonwood is from the slag crushing operation and as a result, Residents can do simple tests at home with a magnet to see if likely slag contamination has occurred in or around their homes and can express their concerns to the Mayor and Planning and Zoning and demand the contamination stop and remediation of the contamination be implemented.  

Toxic Slag dust at the Rec Center, Library, Community Health Facility Compound. 

What can we do now??

What Can We Do Now?

None of the many complaints submitted to the over the years have created any solutions or lowered the impact of this cancer-causing environmental disaster.  Jennifer Richards own son is a victim of this disaster which is why she was inspired to take action.  He son developed an unexplainable long-lasting cough and asthma after regularly playing at the Cottonwood Kids Park.  The cough is still bad two years later with not explanation from Doctors on why or how.  In the spring of 2023, her sons flag football team had practices in the fields of the Cottonwood Children's Park and her son began developing rashes after practice.  It was then that she noticed slag dust blowing off the stockpile at the MRI facility onto the park.  In a desperate attempt to help her son and the many other children likely effected she began researching MRI and the resulting slag dust dispersion.  

Now that we know just how toxic this slag dust is, and now that it is dispersing into the community, we will not stop until action is take to remediate the damage, clean up the slag dust from our community and ensure that anything that is done with the slag pile in the future does not end up an Enironmental Disaster like we have now.  

The City of Cottonwood is has a clear and legal path to stop the contamination immediately by revoking the "Conditional Use Permit" the City has granted to Minerals Research.  

Below is a list of alleged violations you can forward to any of the officials below to demand the law be followed and the violations be prosecuted.  You can simply copy and paste to your email and add your name to the bottom, or you can customize  how you like.  Email to:

Mayor Elinski at or call him at 928-340-2747.

-Community Development Director, Scott Ellis ,  or call him at 928-634-5505 

ADEQ (AZ Department of Environmental Quality)- Balaji Vaidyanathan,

Below are links to email our Planning and Zoning Commission and officials to request they enforce their own stipulations.;;;;;;

Below is a list of alleged violations of Minerals Research.  So far our governmental agencies have failed to adequately investigate and enforce the law as it relates to these violations.  There are many more violations to be found in the official complaints page, there is just far to many to list here.  

  • MRI is in open violation of their Conditional Use Permit granted by the City of Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission.  This Conditional Use Permit has specific stipulations that must be met in order for MRI to legally operate, a violation of any stipulations can and should result in the revocation of their Conditional Use Permit.  Stipulation number 10 states that ADEQ permits must be obtained BEFORE MRI plant operations begin.  On October 12th, 2023, MRI was issued a consent order from ADEQ: Docket Number A-12-23.  The consent order states that the Crushing and Screening plant permit that MRI has been operating under (since approximately 2014), does not legally apply to their operations, and as such is invalid.  

    • This means that MRI has never had an applicable permit for their operations and as a result, all emissions of fugitive toxic slag dust into the community have been unlawful.  ​

    • The City of Cottonwood has been given official complaints asking them to enforce this stipulation, but instead of enforcing their own stipulations (lawfully voted on by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2009) they have given MRI the green light to operate without any ADEQ permit for Air Quality Control.  As of 11/13/2023, MRI is operating with no ADEQ air quality permit as required by law and the City of Cottonwood has sanctioned this violation, without allowing the enforcement of the violation to be voted on by the Planning and Zoning Commission, as is customary.   

  •  Stipulation 13 of MR's Conditional Use Permit states that all drainage is contained within the retention areas on site.   As seen in this video (CLICK HERE), direct evidence shows stormwater is discharging off site as there is a downhill slop from the facility into the fairgrounds and there is significant evidence to suggest the off-site drainage is distributing toxic slag particulate into our community and ultimately our river.   

  • MRI has been operating unlawfully without any valid ADEQ permits since operations began in 2014, in violation of their CUP and in violation of the Clean Air Act, EPA laws, ADEQ laws, codes, statutes, local, state and federal laws and ordinances as outlined in the official complaints found HERE.  

  • As a result of these violations of law, all fugitive copper slag dust emissions into our community have been unlawful and we demand they are issued violations and fines for every day they have operated illegally since 2014 and we demand they be required to clean up all contamination of fugitive copper slag dust emissions within our city, businesses, homes, parks, children’s facilities, VFW, police station, fire station, elementary schools, churches and more.

  • MRI has never performed and submitted the required phase 2 environmental study prior to operations beginning as guaranteed in at least five public meetings and correspondence between the City and MRI.  You can see the documentation of these agreements made between our Planning and Zoning Commission in an official complaint seen HERE.

  • Even if MRI obtains the required ADEQ Air Quality Control Permit, that still will not protect us as the air quality permit only holds MRI’s dust emissions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which does not account for the specific toxic components of the copper slag dust.  The only way to ensure any type of safety to our community, is to perform a full and comprehensive risk assessment, by a qualified professional, and according to the strict standards outlined in the EPA document “ISSUE PAPER ON THE HUMAN HEALTH EFFECTS OF METALS.”   Only once a professional, EPA approved, risk assessment is performed, that guarantees a safe level of respirable and ingestible exposure of slag dust for children, and proof through ongoing fence line air testing that emissions are well below this safe exposure level, should MRI be able to operate again.  If a safe level of exposure even exists for children.  The previous 9 years of daily exposure must be considered in that risk assessment.    Here is a recorded conversation with ADEQ where they admit that the national ambient air quality standards to not protect against the specific toxic heavy metals found in the slag dust blanketing our city.   ADEQ representative David Kim agreed that a risk analysis should be done as it's the only way to ensure safe levels of exposure to children are established and enforced.   

  • MRI had material inaccuracies in their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.  No operations should commence at MRI until a valid and factually accurate SWPPP is in place.  As seen in the video linked above on the violation of stipulation 13.  

  • MRI gave purposeful and material negligent misrepresentations to the citizens, Planning and Zoning and City Council in obtaining their CUP and original approvals and subjects them to a revocation hearing to be held before the entire Planning and Zoning Commission for them to consider revoking their CUP as provided for by law.  We request this hearing take place ASAP.  The overview of these violations can bee seen by going to the Official Complaints page and viewing the August 29th complaint submitted to the City of Cottonwood. 

  •  We ask that the City of Cottonwood apply to be a superfund site due to the amount of mining contamination within our community and the statistically significant health impacts our community has suffered.  Many other copper mining communities have become superfund sites, there is no reason our city officials should not be requesting for federal funding to clean up the hazards present from the past operations.   Click here to view a flyer for a copper mining  superfund site.  Notice how it states that the dust can be toxic and notice how on page 3 it states children should not handle the slag dust.  Yet in Cottonwood, we are actively crushing the slag into a dust that is covering our children's facilities and children's homes, bedrooms, blankets and more.  

  • These matters are of extreme consequence to our community and must be addressed immediately.  MRI must be held to the fullest extent of the law to compensate our community for the damages they have illegally caused.


You can also contact the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality at 602-771-2300 or you can submit a complaint with them by clicking HERE.

recorded Phone call with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality- no safe limit for chArtist Name
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