ASARCO site trustee responds to concerns about demolition

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 8:07pm

Crews are set to demolish the ASARCO smokestacks in a month, but there are still serious concerns from people in the community.

The trustee of the site, Roberto Puga said the plans should not come as a surprise to community members. A group of local leaders this week sent a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, requesting more testing before the demolition and a former ASARCO employee we spoke with agrees.

"It was a good experience. It was a good paying job. It was good benefits. We just didn't know what we were being exposed to," said former employee Carlos Rodriguez.

Rodriguez worked for ASARCO for more than 30 years.

As a former employee, he's worried about toxic materials like arsenic, lead, and cadmium that were smeltered there.

"The testing is not being done properly. They're not testing for the toxic chemicals. They're testing for the permitted metals that ASARCO had," said Rodriguez.

There are also concerns from city leaders the stacks could contaminate the water supply. After the demolition, the stacks will be buried on the ASARCO site.

"Our water source runs right next to the plant. The American Canal, the Rio Grande is only a few hundred yards away. It's certainly seep into the ground," said Rodriguez.

But Puga said those fears are unfounded. He said crews will bury the concrete and other materials in a special area, a plan that meets environmental standards.

"You isolate the material from contact with the environment and humans. So that people cannot come in contact with it. Ground water cannot come in contact with it. Rainwater can't come in contact with it," said Puga.

Puga said teams are also laying down a cushion for the stacks to fall on and are installing a misting system to capture the dust. They will also have dust monitors around the site, to make sure levels are safe.

Results from an environmental impact test are also expected to come in at the end of the week.

"This is something that we've done in the open transparently. It's something that we said we were going to do. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," said Puga.

As far as the letter from community leaders, it's unclear if TCEQ can stop the demolition. Officials said they're looking into the concerns expressed by community leaders.

The demolition is scheduled for April 13 at 6:30 a.m. There will not be a mandatory evacuation of homes in the area, but some residents will be offered a hotel stay for the weekend.

Puga said if there's an unexpected wind storm or bad weather, they will postpone the demolition.

For more information visit http://www.recastingthesmelter.com/ or http://www.tceq.texas.gov/remediation/sites/asarco/asarco.

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