Email from Malcolm S. Mitchell, M.D. to Mayor Cook

Email Subject Heading: Why the Asarco Smoke Stacks Must be Razed (and not purchased by the City of El Paso)

Dear Mayor Cook:

I sent this to Mr. Alberto Puga in November, 2011, just over a year ago, when he was reviewing plans for the Asarco site.

Perhaps you recall that I also discussed the Asarco demolition with you in 2008, and that you referred me to the Get the Lead Out group and Senator Shapleigh at the time. Because the City of El Paso appears to be considering purchase of the Asarco stacks, I felt it was appropriate to send this brief argument against the stacks, slightly modified, to you, for dissemination among the members of the City Council. Thank you for your consideration.


Malcolm S. Mitchell, M.D.

Retired Professor of Medical Oncology; former Chief of Oncology and Clinical Director, University of Southern California Cancer Center

Why the Asarco Smoke Stacks Must Be Razed

There are three main reasons why it is imperative to raze and remove the Asarco smoke stacks. First, they are unsightly, and a reminder of El Paso’s grim past, where yellow-green, acrid pollution hovered over much of the downtown area. That area included the University of Texas at El Paso, whose students and faculty were directly affected by the polluted air, and where the soil even today is undoubtedly contaminated with toxic byproducts of the smelting. Second, there is evidence that Asarco illegally burned toxic wastes after hours, incinerating materials from the Army, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and other governmental agencies. The smoke stacks must be sampled for evidence of toxic materials known to be have been produced (and disposed of) by the government from the 1960s to 1999, when Asarco operations ceased in El Paso. This would conclusively prove that illegal disposal of hazardous wastes was being conducted surreptitiously, while the company was denying that activity. Third, removal of the smoke stacks, along with the rest of the physical plant, would allow the site to be developed for non-commercial use, and would absolutely prevent another polluter from taking over the site in the future. Whether that will be another smelter put up by the buyers of the property (who may like the proximity of the area to railroads), or a smelter erected by a new company whose identity we cannot yet know, we must prevent that occurrence. For these reasons, cleanup of the Asarco site would not be complete without razing and removing the offensive smoke stacks.

The argument that the stacks are a “historically important” monument (akin to the Eiffel Tower or the Parthenon?) is totally misguided in my opinion. The stacks are simply a reminder of the bad old days when El Paso was a dumping site for metallurgical waste products, not the vibrant city it has become and continues to become.

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