Binational Phytostabilization Team Visits Sites in Mexico and US

In May and June 2014, University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) phytostabilization experts toured mining sites in Mexico and the US with their Mexican project partners. The UA-UNAM grant, “Phytostabilization of copper mine tailings in the Arizona-Sonora region” provides funding for reciprocal tours of mining facilities in Northern Mexico and Arizona so that collaborating PIs can become familiarized with reclamation issues on both sides of the border. The ultimate goal of the project is to compile a database of native plant species appropriate for phytostabilization and identify complimentary areas of expertise for developing future proposals.

UA SRP associate investigator Dr. Julia Neilson, UA SRP trainees Juliana Gil-Loaiza, Lydia Jennings, and Linnea Herbertson, and undergraduate student (Daniela Cabrera) travelled to Mexico on May 14 for a very busy four-day trip. They were joined by investigators and students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). On the first day, they arrived in Nacozari de García, a small mining town in the northeast of the Mexican state of Sonora. On the second day they toured the La Caridad mine, a large active open-pit copper mine run by Grupo Mexico. The company’s subdirector of environmental issues led them around the mine, the tailings, and the processing plant. The next day, the group toured the legacy mine tailings at Nacozari, then travelled to Cananea, another Sonoran mining town. On the last day of the trip, they toured mine tailings impoundments at the Cananea active open-pit copper mine, home to the largest copper reserves in the world, also run by Grupo Mexico.

From June 23-25, 2014, UNAM colleagues travelled to Arizona to tour three mining sites. First they toured mine reclamation projects at Resolution Copper in Superior, AZ, (owned by Rio Tinto).  The second day they visited the legacy mine tailings at the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site in Dewey-Humboldt, AZ, home to a number of UA SRP projects. The third day, they visited the Mission Mine, an active open-pit copper mine run by ASARCO in Sahuarita, AZ.

A workshop is planned on September 2014 at the Biosphere in Oracle, AZ  to provide both US and Mexican collaborators the opportunity to present current research initiatives related to mine waste phytostabilization and to facilitate planning of future research collaborations. Six collaborators from UNAM and the Universidad de Sonora will participate along with Drs. Raina Maier and Julie Neilson from the UA SRP and their graduate students.

Says project co-PI Dr. Neilson, “Environmental issues are not constrained to one side of an international border, thus binational collaborations are critical to addressing common environmental concerns and research developments associated with copper mining in Northern Mexico and Arizona.”