Discovering the Splendor of SLAG
Rock&Gem Magazine|February 2021
A pile of slag remaining from copper smelting operations of 1930s Cottonwood, Arizona is one area of focus for Minerals Research, Inc. (MRI), the company pursuing a 15-20 year process to remove the pile using innovative recovery technology.
REBECCA SOLON

Since 1980, MRI has created various mineral products for industrial use from the mining, processing and marketing of a mountain of slag scrap. Recycling applications include a spectrum of industries in commercial and military markets overseas and in Mexico. The company’s domestic ventures extend to the Gulf Coast, where MRI is a major supplier of iron silicate abrasives for high-pressure underwater cutting operations using waterjet technology in various decommissioning and abandonment projects. In California, MRI helped pioneer the recycling of spent abrasives in the manufacture of a Portland cement clinker. Sandblasting and waterjet abrasives are also sent to naval bases in Guam and Japan.

Leading up to the City of Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a 2008 agreement with MRI to remove the slag pile, the opinions of Cottonwood citizens were divided. Site Operations Manager Tom Hurkett said the feedback MRI received from the community was very positive and significantly higher than what had been reported in local news reports.

Within the news coverage, there were comments for and against the reclamation of the slag pile. Some cited the historical significance of the pile as an indication of the area’s mining heritage, while other opinions favored the benefits of recycling slag.

A more recent article published in 2017 in Journalaz.com, provided an update of the MRI operation. In the article, Hurkett is quoted as saying, “The smelter here processed only ore from Jerome. This is a relatively small slag pile compared to others in the state, but it’s consistent.” The slag is an iron silicate that Hurkett refers to as “iron glass” and occupies thirteen acres behind the Verde Valley Fairgrounds. According to the MRI website, www.mineralsresearch. com, the processing plant and its high-tech equipment produce “air blasting abrasives (SHARPSHOT® iron silicate), slurry blasting abrasives, roofing sands and granules, cement additives, road and roof asphalt fillers, and aggregates.”

Extensive dust collecting conduits wrap around the processing plant to keep the discharge of dust at a minimum in order to shield the community from all of the slag-refinement activities. According to Hurkett’s statement in the Journalaz.com article, “The processing and packaging plants are fairly mechanized, mitigating the number of personnel needed to run the operation. A robot arm in the packaging plant can create a 3,000-pound pallet of 75-pound bags of processed slag in 100 seconds, faster than the other machinery can keep up. The plant is attempting to, and largely succeeding at, having zero emissions.”

TALL TALE OF THE TAILINGS

The historic slag pile is associated with the Clemenceau smelter, which began operating in 1917 and closed on December 31, 1936. Interestingly, Hurkett claims that he does not know the full extent of Jerome slag material on the thirteen-acre property. The story passed down through mining families in the area claimed a hole or bowl-shaped depression beneath the 60-foot pile of iron byproduct might hold even more material.

However, aerial surveys have not yet determined whether the story is tailings “truth or tale”. Hurkett must have been thinking about the mountains of slag waste he was tasked with removing when he extended invitations to local gem and mineral clubs to organize consolidated field trips on the mining premises. Dig visits by local clubs has been a tradition for several years now, including members of the Mingus Gem and Mineral Club and affiliated area rock clubs.

SPARK OF SPIRITED SLAG SLOGGING

As a member of the Mingus Gem and Mineral Club, I organized the annual field trip in 2019, when Hurckett called and reminded us of the opportunity to get the area rockhounds together again for another collecting fest in the slag yard. Hurkett’s generosity extended to the use of plant assets, which he made available to all of us in the spirit of having fun while receiving mechanized assistance with specimens that were a little weightier than usual. Before our clubs began collecting on-site, Hurkett arranged for us to have a guided tour of the exterior portion of the facility and a brief overview of the processing capabilities of MRI.

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