ASARCO to Build Capsules to Seal Ground

By Lindsey Reiser – Multimedia Journalist

ASARCO trustees presented updates this week to the mayor and city council. Those in charge of the cleanup say they’re pleased with the progress, but we spoke to one former employee who isn’t.

Carlos Rodriguez worked at ASARCO for over 27 years. But now, he says health problems prevent him from working.

“High blood pressure, diabetes, I have rashes, and I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said.

While no doctor has confirmed his suspicions, he says these problems are from exposure to toxic chemicals at ASARCO. He’s concerned that the cleanup effort isn’t enough to get rid of toxins that may still be in the ground.

“It’s being done half-heartedly, I think people of El Paso are being cheated,” he said.

Currently the plan is to create five capsules on the site that will cover contaminated ground. The process is supposed to seal in harmful substances, namely arsenic and lead.

“It’s impossible to please everyone,” said Roberto Puga, the site trustee. He says these capsules have been used in other cities like Omaha, but we wanted to know – why not excavate the ground completely?

“That would be prohibitively expensive,” he said. “There is no other source for money.”

ASARCO will be donating historical items, like old payroll records, to UTEP. Everything else will be sold. Demolition is supposed to begin in December. One of the ideas for the future of the site is a sports facility.

“I think it’s signals kind of a new beginning,” Puga said.

As far as that signature smoke stack is concerned, unless a grassroots organization can find $14 million to help maintain it, it has to go.

We’re told the entire cleanup process will be done within five years.

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