Ex-ASARCO Workers Claim Secret Dump Sites In Plant

Monica Balderrama-KFOX News Reporter

EL PASO, Texas — A handful of ex-ASARCO employees claim that working at the smelter has made them sick and toxic waste still remains on the property.

Ex-workers, along with an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Inc., held a press conference Monday disclosing concerns about the remediation process of the plant.

“While I was working there I came down with some rashes and my skin would crack,” said Mario Nevarez, a 12-year ASARCO worker.

Nevarez and several other co-workers said their illnesses have been a mystery for years. But the workers said they now realize why they’re so sick. They blame the years they worked at ASARCO, the copper smelter.

The Environmental Protection Agency reached a landmark national $20 million cleanup and penalty settlement with ASARCO in 1999, the year the plant shut down. The details of the violations were not disclosed until years later.

A few years ago, a 1998 confidential memorandum regarding the ASARCO settlement statement was obtained by two El Paso environmental groups. In the document, the EPA said ASARCO had a permit to extract metals from hazardous waste products, but it was illegally burning waste. The EPA states, “This activity, plain and simple, was illegal treatment and disposal of hazardous waste.”

“All this is new to me as well, I didn’t know they were burning this stuff illegally. Not knowing why I was sick,” said Patrick Garza.

Garza along with other employees have interviewed other workers and uncovered information identifying six unregulated dump sites on ASARCO property. Workers disclosed that in the late ’70s they were given instructions to excavate around the property and bury oils.

The group feels that the trustee selected to manage work plans, data consolidation and conduct community outreach has not incorporated their concerns. They believe the site hasn’t been tested properly because if it was they would have found the dump sites. Veronica Carbajal, an attorney with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid said nearby residents and future residents could be at risk.

“However, the community will be in danger. Schools, apartments, homes that maybe established in that people, owners may not know,” said Carbajal.

The workers have contacted the EPA and asked to take over the oversight and corrective action of the ASARCO site.