ASARCO smokestacks 'emblematic' of Juarez neighborhood; officials ensure safety measures

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - After Mexican authorities decided not to evacuate two neighborhoods directly across the border from the ASARCO smokestacks, some Juarez residents are concerned about the Saturday demolition.

"We are scared, but what's the point of evacuating if there's long term damage?," Gerardo Luna said in Spanish. The 20-year-old has lived all of his life in the neighborhood directly across the ASARCO site in Cuidad Juarez.

ASARCO site trustee Roberto Puga has said the trust has taken adequate precautions to ensure the safety of all surrounding residents. The trust has conducted several tests on the site to check for toxins. It will also continue post-demolition tests to ensure groundwater is safe. 

Site officials have also taken precautions to ensure the demolition itself is safe. Workers have installed berms on each side of the chimneys to deflect debris and dust.

They've also installed a protective cover on the ASARCO soil and on top of that, they put new dirt. This is to ensure the site soil does not become airborne. The new dirt is commercially called gorilla-snot, which is a "high performance, environmentally-safe, low cost acrylic copolymer."

The demolition contractor will also construct and install debris/dust covers over several hundred feet of the water canal located just west of the chimney fall zones.

Luna said he's heard of at least one watch party in his neighborhood.

"Most people will probably just pull out their lawn chairs and get a front row seat. They'll record it and put the video on Facebook," he said.

Another woman who's lived in the same neighborhood for about 20 years, Eularla Hernandez, said she hopes the tests the trust conducted are sufficient to ensure her and her family's safety.

"I remember when ASARCO was open. We'd all wake up with our noses stained black and we'd have to wash our curtains every week because they'd get stained black," she said.

Hernandez said that stopped when ASARCO shut down. She said the towers have been a visual icon for her unpaved neighborhood and their fall represents an end of an era.

Luna said the smokestacks are emblematic of his neighborhood.

"When people ask me where I live, I always say 'by the ASARCO towers,'" Luna said.

He said he'll make sure to wake up early on Saturday and watch the towering giants that for decades have represented his corner of the world, go down.

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