Site Trustee Responds to Emailed Questions from Heather McMurray

Trustee responses are in bold.

Dear Ms. McMurray,

Thank you once again for your continuing interest in this very challenging project. We have been researching and compiling responses to your previous questions. Your questions and our responses are below; your questions appear in black font and our responses are in bold.

Mr. Puga:

Current research by M.D.’s (2009) show significant radon contamination throughout El Paso – heavily associated with the dirt outside of homes, and they recommend clean-up. The levels are very significant. It is very interesting that you state “El Paso County has low radon potential” when the medical doctors are finding radon to be a huge problem here.

Response: As we pointed out in our previous response and as described in the paper referenced, radon is naturally occurring. Radon is a recognized concern in homes in some areas of the country. The Asarco plant area is a commercial / industrial site and since no residences are present on the property, radon is simply not a constituent of concern to be measured. The paper you are referring to which is by Dr. Irina Cech and others from the University of Texas titled: Factors Contributing to Elevated Indoor Radon in the Paso Del Norte Region of the Texas-Mexico Border: Information for Physicians published in the in the Southern Medical Journal, July 2009 – Volume 102 – Issue 7 – pp 701-706 discusses the issue. Notwithstanding the discussion in the paper relating soil radon to levels in homes, the fact is that both EPA and the State of Texas rate El Paso County as having low overall radon potential. While the paper gives cause to consider the matter in a broader public health forum, plainly stated, there is simply no linkage between natural radon levels discussed the paper and the smelter operations that warrant additional investigation.

We already know from the EPA that El Paso TX had the highest Beta Radiation levels in the nation just before Asarco El Paso shut down in 2/99. Mr. Bill Luthans asserted that this was “naturally occurring radiation” (or “NORM”/”TENORM”) and said it was not a problem – but could not provide data to back-up his statement that the radiation was not a problem.

Response: We are unaware of any information regarding high beta radiation levels in El Paso during the 1998-1999 time period that you refer to. The EPA maintains a series of monitoring stations which record radiation levels in air, water and precipitation throughout the country and radiation monitors in El Paso have operated continuously between 1981 and 2010. EPA data for the time period between June 1998 and June 1999 show no anomalous gross beta radiation readings. The only significant beta readings in El Paso as well as in other locations in the US occur between March and June of 1986 which corresponds to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Russia.

To the extent we can comment on Mr. Luthans response, we do not believe that any sort of beta radiation can be attributed to the El Paso smelter given the nature of the mineral concentrates sent to the plant for smelting. To clarify, NORM is essentially natural uranium, thorium and potassium that is present in trace amounts in all rock, soil, water and air. These elements are present from the time the Earth was created and over time, decay and change into “daughter” products, some of which are radioactive (i.e. radon), others of which are stable or non-radioactive. Processing can “Technologically Enhance” NORM and create “TENORM” under certain chemical conditions. We know TENORM occurs in copper mining and leaching operations in Arizona and given this fact, we carefully reviewed the study by EPA produced in 1999 on this subject and reviewed additional data sheets from mining companies producing concentrates. Beta radiation issues are not reported in this study. To the extent of our information, given the nature of the smelter feed and the level of documentation on the subject, we do not believe that the concentrates processed at the plant could result in elevated beta radiation, TENORM or other radioactive materials above any regulatory limits. For further information on natural radioactivity see this link (

You are incorrect to state that “Radon gas, which is a naturally occurring substance, is not measured using XRF methods”. Radon is an element that appears from radium decay, and can be detected with many different methods. It is radioactive and hazardous to our health.

Response: It is correct that radon can be measured a number of different ways. However, as we stated previously, radon gas is not measured using XRF methods. Methods to measure radon under field and laboratory conditions which are documented by EPA may be found at the EPA’s website. XRF methods are not included in this list.

You did not provide any links or documents showing any XRF data from ASARCO. In fact, Asarco El Paso refused to allow XRF technology to be tested on-site) to determine what chemicals have been left here by the nearly ten years of illegal, untracked, incineration of both military and industrial wastes for profit by Asarco El Paso.

Response: The Asarco site has been extensively investigated and the results from the various site investigations which include the analytical results for metals done by XRF methods may be found at the TCEQ website. These results are included in the attachments and appendices to the investigation reports. See the following website:

The metal results in previous site investigations appear to be laboratory XRF results. We should point out that XRF methods are primarily screening tools for detecting metals at semi-quantitative levels and are not used to measure organic chemicals. We cannot comment on Asarco’s use of these instruments since their activities ceased long before the Trust took possession of the property. From a compliance perspective, we rely on laboratory analytical results which are much more accurate and sensitive than analytical field methods such as XRF.

I would like to know why Project Navigator continues to dodge the question of the illegal chemical residues at the site. I would like Project Navigator to provide data showing the radon, radium and radio-isotope levels at the site. EPA has provided proof now that ASARCO handled radioactive materials.

Response: As we have stated previously, both the EPA and GAO have reviewed and reported on the Asarco and Encycle matter which addressed the issue of improper waste handling. Enforcement action was taken against Asarco and the matter was settled in 1999. The GAO report and subsequent EPA documents are clear in their findings and conclusions regarding the issue.

As we discussed above, Asarco, as a large integrated metal producer and refiner obviously handled a wide variety materials including radioactive materials. Given the scrutiny of the site from both state and federal authorities, we do not expect man-made radioisotopes, TENORM, byproducts or residues at levels above their respective natural levels. Our focus is on the identified constituents which include lead, arsenic and cadmium.

A review of the available records found a December of 1995 letter where ENCYCLE informed the TNRCC that it had received a lead sulfide waste; containing naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). This letter stated that the NORM was present at quantities less than the regulated level; but it did not indicate the quantity of material or if the material was shipped to the Asarco El Paso smelter.

We reviewed the letter described and it only states that Encycle received some type of lead sulfide material containing NORM. There is no other information we have found which shows where the material went or the quantity.

I would like to know who Mary Koks is (you copied her on your reply) at ; and, why you felt it necessary to also copy the TCEQ attorney, Caroline Sweeney on your reply. Are Radon and NORM/TENORM at ASARCO something that Project Navigator is afraid to discuss with the public?

Response: Mary Koks is the attorney for Texas Custodial Trust and is part of the project team. As part of the project team she is copied on correspondence and reviews product produced by the Trust. Since Trust operates at the direction of the TCEQ, they are copied on correspondence relating to the site submitted by the public. We have been completely up-front with our information regarding issues of contamination at the site including radon as discussed above.

Details about what chemicals have been left here by the nearly ten years of illegal, untracked, incineration of both military and industrial wastes for profit by Asarco El Paso continue to be kept secret; but, such secrecy/gag is likely illegal now that the Federal Dept. of Justice made the confidential-for-settlement-purposes-only EPA-DOJ-Asarco agreement public domain.

Project Navigator should honor the intent of this public-domain-release of information; and, also the La Paz Accord JAC committee International Recommendation (to measure background contamination levels). To continue to withhold full disclosure from the public about the poisons remaining around this site is ethically and morally wrong; potentially places the elderly, the young, the unborn and the ill in grave dangers that could be averted; and potentially puts Project Navigator in the sad role of making profits in a fake clean-up at the expense of our future generations.

Heather Mcmurray

Response: As we have stated previously, the Trust has been completely transparent in its discussions regarding the constituents of concern at the site and made available to the public all material it has and there is nothing kept “secret” by the Trust. Any other documents not in our possession are available from TCEQ or EPA. For the current cleanup program, the Trust has posted on its website all documents it produces in the form of plans, specifications, presentations and reports. The allegation that the Trust, which is charged with cleaning up the Asarco site, is somehow withholding information or failing to pursue issues relevant to health and safety of the community is simply false and unsupported by its actions.

The Trust operates under the direction of TCEQ and EPA, however, cross-border matters as they relate to the La Paz Accord are not within the scope of the Trust’s charge. These matters are managed EPA.

Project Navigator will continue to review information related the Asarco El Paso smelter as appropriate and we will seek the guidance of the regulatory agencies as new information becomes available.

We believe we have responded to your, and the El Paso community’s, questions openly and honestly. We will continue to do so during the course of our activities at the site.

Best Regards,

Roberto Puga

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