42-02 56th Rd., Queens, NY 11378


"Phelps Dodge" copper refinery Superfund Freeport-McMoRan

Phelps Dodge once operated a copper refining and chemical production facility at this location.  Currently Sagres Partners (a subsidiary of Galasso Trucking) owns the center of the site and has leased the space to Restaurant Depot, Boston Coach, and Galasso Trucking.  The properties leased to Boston Coach and Galasso Trucking serve as storage lots for their vehicle fleets.  Restaurant Depot (a subsidiary of Jetro Holdings) is wholesale food warehouse franchise.  

Phelps Dodge maintains ownership of the empty rubble strewn eastern and western sections of the site, though Sagres Partners has contracted to buy these properties at a later date.  These parcels will need to be capped with clean soil and pavement before they can be developed.  The fifteen foot wide strip of land that runs along the border of Newtown Creek will remain the property of Phelps Dodge indefinitely, as they are responsible for maintaining the retaining wall and groundwater pumps that prevent toxic soil and groundwater from migrating into Newtown Creek from beneath the site.

According to a report by Cushman & Wakefield filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sagres Partners sold three parcels of land from the former Phelps Dodge site to three separate entities in 2005.  A 108,900 sq. ft. parcel was sold to Radhaswamy for $8 million, a 65,000 sq. ft. parcel was sold to Montebello Italian Food Company for $5.4 million, and a 120,000 sq. ft. parcel was sold to Thai Food Company for $9.8 million.  By Summer 2008 none of these entities had developed their properties and it is not known whether they still own them.

In 2007, Phelps Dodge Refining Corporation was acquired by Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded copper company, for $26 billion.  Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Freeport-McMoran conducts its business through its principal operating subsidiaries: PT Freeport Indonesia, Phelps Dodge, and Atlantic Copper.  Freeport McMoran principally mines copper, gold and molybdenum and they have mining operations throughout the Southwestern United States, Peru, Chile, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

According to an investigative report by the New York Times Freeport-McMoRan bribed Indonesian politicians and military officers and utilized the Indonesian military to threaten, harass, and kill those in opposition to their mines and mining practices.  In addition, Freeport-McMoRan has dumped millions of tons of toxic mine tailings into watersheds in Indonesia thereby polluting the environment, destroying livelihoods, and poisoning thousands of people.
After 113 years of continuous industrial copper and chemical production, the Phelps Dodge Laurel Hill Works industrial facility ceased operations in December of 1983.[1] [Photo from 1951].  After shutting down, the property lay vacant for several years until the US Postal Service agreed to buy it in 1987 for $14.7 million. Much to their chagrin, the Postal Service soon discovered that the property was too polluted to develop leading to a 1992 lawsuit against Phelps Dodge by the US Attorney General. The suit was settled in 1997, the terms of which required Phelps Dodge to take back the property, remit the purchase price plus interest, and enter into negotiations with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to arrange a clean up of the property.

Two years later, in 1999, Phelps Dodge negotiated a Consent Decree with DEC to develop a remedial action plan for the site.  In 2000 the site was razed and thousands of tons of hazardous soil and sludge (contaminated with cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs and more) were hauled away and a retaining wall and groundwater pump were installed along the creek-front to prevent toxic soil and groundwater from migrating into Newtown Creek from beneath the site.  Phelps Dodge spent over $30 million cleaning up the property, an amount considered inadequate by some members of the community who wanted a complete remediation of the site at an estimated cost of over $200 million.[2]  

In 2004 construction began on the now completed Restaurant Depot, a 75,000 square-foot wholesale food warehouse franchise.  The properties just east of Restaurant Depot are used by Boston Coach and Galasso Trucking as storage lots for their vehicle fleets.

The Phelps Dodge Laurel Hill copper smelter may now be history but its toxic legacy continues to live on in the sediments and surface waters of Newtown Creek.  To date, Phelps Dodge has yet to take any responsibility for, and begin removing, the toxic waste they dumped into the Creek for over a century.  In February 2007, Phelps Dodge refusal to clean up the Creek led the Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to announce his intention to sue them for endangering the “health and the environment in Newtown Creek and portions of the adjacent shoreline”.[3] 

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