Asarco smokestack demolition rescheduled

By Robert Gray – El Paso Inc.

Originally scheduled to fall this week, the demolition of one of Asarco’s smallest smokestacks will now happen in September, while the iconic 826-foot-tall smokestack is expected to come down on schedule the first quarter of next year, says Robert Puga, the trustee in charge of the site.

The first stack to be demolished, is the rusting, 300-foot smokestack that used to be part of an acid plant attached to the copper smelter. That plant was created in the early 1970s after the passage of the Clean Air Act in Texas.

The system scrubbed the sulfur from the fumes that poured from the smelter’s stack and turned it into sulfuric acid, which the company sold.

Piece by piece, the former Asarco plant is disappearing

A 35-person crew is working day in and day out to demolish the former copper smelter and the job is almost 30 percent finished, according to Puga. The demolition is being done by Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., headquartered in Chicago.

‚ÄúThe landscape out there is changing dramatically,‚ÄĚ Puga says.

The trust expects to have all the demolition done, except for the two large stacks on the site, by the end of this year.

Most visibly, the large tanks that used to store the sulfuric acid have been taken down, and the large buildings on the site are scheduled for demolition soon, according to Puga.

When the demolition is done, all the structures on the site but two will be gone. The administrative building and power generation building will be preserved.

Millions from scrap
The sales of various scrap metals recently taken from the site during the demolition have boosted the fund set aside for the site’s remediation by millions of dollars.

To help pay for the cleanup of the 120-acre main smelter site, a trust of $52 million was put aside in the $1.8-billion Asarco bankruptcy settlement, reached in 2009.

While $9 million was earmarked for demolition, because of a strong market for steel scrap, Puga says they were able to broker a deal where Brandenburg did the demolition at no cost and paid $1 million for the scrap metal.

Puga says they have also sold a full load of ore that had been left on the site for $10 million and scrap lead for $1 million. The copper will be crushed in Mexico and then sold to Chinese end users. The lead has been slated for use in the manufacture of automobile batteries, according to a press release.

In March, the trust received $1.9 million from the sale of Asarco’s oxygen plant to a buyer in Australia who will dismantle the plant and re-erect it for use in Africa, according to a release.

The extra funds will allow the Asarco Trust to take the remediation a step further, restoring the arroyo, named the Parker Brothers Arroyo, that runs through the property.

A community meeting will be held in October to discuss the demolition of the large stack, Puga says. That stack is slated to come down the first quarter of next year.

Updates can be found on the Asarco Trust’s website, www.RecastingTheSmelter.com.

E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at rsgray@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.