Fight over Asarco smokestacks not over yet

POSTED: 05:40 PM MDT Mar 11, 2013    UPDATED: 03:44 PM MDT Apr 09, 2013 
EL PASO, Texas -

     While demolition of the Insight's Science Museum is already underway, the fight over demolition of the Asarco smokestacks, scheduled for April 13, may not be over yet.

     Late last week several local leaders signed a letter expressing their concerns over the upcoming demolition of the smokestacks. That letter has now been sent and received by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality according to Asarco site trustee Roberto Puga.

     The letter, signed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, Rep. Marisa Marquez, County Judge Veronica Escobar and City Rep. Emma Acosta and Susie Byrd, among others, states there are "serious, additional questions regarding the long-term environmental and health consequences of the planned demolition and burial of the stacks."

     It goes on ask the question whether "anyone seriously analyzed if it would be better, environmentally, simply to keep the stacks standing and monitor any contaminants going forward?"

     ABC-7 spoke with Puga Monday about the letter sent to the TCEQ.

     "This site has had more environmental investigations than any other typical site, including the stacks," Puga said. "We have taken three core samples from each stack through the entire thickness (about three feet long). They have been crushed into fine grain and dust and been taken to a certified lab. They are being tested for metals, volatile organic and semi-volatile organic, just to make sure there isn't any sort of issue."

     Byrd said many people, including Asarco workers, have worried about landfilling the stacks particularly because of what the shelter has been "belching over the past century."

     "The gist of the letter is we want to understand about the environmental impacts of burying the stacks underneath the site, above our water supply, versus preserving the stacks, stabilizing them for decades to come," Byrd said. "But really what is the approach that has the least environmental impact going forward."

     Puga told me the core testing was being done before the letter was sent to the TCEQ. He said the results are expected to be available this week and they will be posted on the Recasting the Smelter website as soon as possible.

     Puga added that no agency, including the TCEQ, the City of El Paso or the Environmental Protection Agency have told him not to move forward at this point with the April 13 demolition date.