ASARCO Cleanup Could Cost Millions, Pose Hazards

By Adrienne Alvarez – Anchor/Reporter

EL PASO— The state of Texas threw out a number today; the amount they expect ASARCO will have to dish out to close their smelter.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality expects the clean up and demolition of the ASARCO smelter to cost about $52 million, which would be forked over by the company.

It’s a massive job that comes with a long list of potential hazards.

“If you were considering only construction activities, then I think it can be done in a couple of years,” said UTEP Civil Engineering Dept. Chair Wen-Whai Li.

But before that can happen, TCEQ leaders say ASARCO must have a site closure plan.

In that plan, two possible phases: demolition, then cleanup.

Professor Li says both phases have potential problems.

“Well first of all, it would be the dust generated by this demolition, and that is something you have to prevent,” he said.

Li has concerns that there may be pollutants in the dust from the demolition of smokestacks and other buildings on the site, which could be hazardous to people who breathe it.

But, he says, there are ways to prevent that from becoming a danger.

“If it’s necessary you can move from one location to another and build a tent or something to confine the movement of airborne dust,” he said.

The next step is what professionals call remediation, or cleanup.

Li says there are three possible ways to clean up ASARCO:

The first would be stabilize the contaminated soil with chemicals.

The second option, would be dig up the contaminated soil and dispose of it responsibly.

And lastly, they can incinerate the soil.

“It’s one of the alternatives, but it’s less likely because it’s more expensive and it could create potential secondary pollution,” said Li.

That means more burned pollutants in our air.

The idea of the demolition has many in El Paso excited, but Li warns locals should not expect a torn-down plant anytime soon.

That’s because there’s still so many steps before the demolition can even happen.
The state and ASARCO are still in negotiations in bankruptcy court in Corpus Christi to develop that trust fund to pay for it all.

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