Crew Topples 300-foot ASARCO Smokestack

By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times

Video by Ana K. Lopez / El Paso Times

Workers pulled down a 300-foot smokestack at Asarco, part of the 100-year-old smelter’s skyline for decades, without incident Tuesday.

The activity is part of the site demolition, which is scheduled to culminate early next year with the toppling of the two larger smokestacks. The tallest one bears the name Asarco.

At 1:52 p.m., a front-end loader pulled on a cable attached about two-thirds of the way up the stack. Soon after the slack was taken up, a loud creak caused by ripping metal echoed across the site, and seconds later the stack began to fall.

Twenty-thousand tons of steel landed with a crash and blasted clouds of dust.

“That wasn’t bad at all,” said Roberto Puga, the trustee in charge of the $52 million demolition and cleanup. “Dust control worked very well.”

Four high-pressure nozzles trained on the landing site sprayed the ground before and after the stack fell. When the stack was on the ground, a water truck equipped with a spray followed behind to knock more dust out of the air. Within minutes, no visible clouds remained.

Ground contamination identified at the site has included lead, arsenic and cadmium. Air monitors around the smelter perimeter were placed to detect contamination traveling off site, which has not been a problem, Puga has said.

The stack was part of Asarco’s acid plant, which was used to reclaim sulfuric acid from smelting byproducts. The acid was sold for commercial uses.

A 150-foot stack was pulled down, also without incident, last week. It serviced a plant used to recover antimony, commonly used to make metal alloys. It had been out of service for at least two decades, Puga said. That tower had recently been used to relay cellular telephone signals.

The cost of taking down the two towers is included in a $1 million contract, paid to Puga’s company, by a company that will process and sell the scrap material. The $1 million will be applied to the cleanup, Puga said.

Puga said scrap from the acid-plant smokestack is worth roughly $500,000.

Before the metal is trucked off-site, Puga said, it will be pressure-washed with water, which is recaptured and treated.

Chris Roberts may be reached at; 546-6136.