Email from Heather McMurray to Site Trustee, Roberto Puga

Email Subject Heading: Why has the Trust lied by omission to the El Paso Community?

Roberto Puga’s response is bolded.

Dear Ms. McMurray,

Thank you once again for your continues interest in the Former ASARCO site. I apologize for the length of time it took for us to respond to you – it was a combination comprehensively answering your questions coupled with the holiday season vacations of my staff. Please see below for our responses, and as you requested this exchange will be posted on our website blog.

Mr. Puga,

ASARCO has been acting for years as a HLRW (high level radioactive waste) U.S. DOE waste disposal contractor — for places like Oakridge, TN and Hanford, WA and nearly 30 other sites. Why did you never tell the community? You, the EPA, the US DOE, DOJ and others would not mention it even under TX PIA or federal FOIA acts to many of those agencies for full disclosure of ASARCO.) It is my understanding that once the Trust sold materials to be used, burned, etc, that it was those company’s responsibility to run radiation tests on the materials after receipt.

Response: As we have stated previously, both the EPA and GAO have reviewed and reported on the Asarco and Encycle matter which addressed the issue of improper waste handling. Enforcement action was taken against Asarco and the matter was settled in 1999. The GAO report and subsequent EPA documents are clear in their findings and conclusions regarding the issue.

As we discussed above, Asarco, as a large integrated metal producer and refiner obviously handled a wide variety materials including radioactive materials. Given the scrutiny of the site from both state and federal authorities, we do not expect man-made radioisotopes, TENORM, byproducts or residues at levels above their respective natural levels. Our focus is on the identified constituents which include lead, arsenic and cadmium.

The Trust issued the Review of Asarco El Paso Smelting Processes in October 2010. The review document was based on the evaluation of shipment records that were available to the Trust at that time. Section 3.1 of the review document included the list of 17 records, posted in 2010 to the USEPA Region 6 Website (, that describe materials that had been shipped to ENCYCLE from numerous sources.

In 2012 the Trust initiated the evaluation of records, made available by the USEPA in 2011 and 2012, related to shipments to ENCYCLE. This evaluation is ongoing and should be completed in January 2013 and will be documented as part of the Supplement Remedial Investigation (RI) for the site that is currently being prepared. It is anticipated that the Supplemental RI will be completed in the first quarter of 2013 and will be made available for public review at the time it is submitted for agency review.

Please do not continue to act as if the grounds are safe for tours, that the stack can be safely blown and the pieces stored in an arroyo over a maximum-life 40 year plastic liner right next to the Rio Grande that supplies 60 % of our drinking water. The stack is safer left plugged and standing.

You have allowed visitors onto the site and in the stack without testing for any of the alpha or beta radiation remaining. You have hidden, protected under the Atomic energy act and subsequent asarco bankruptcy that refused to discuss the U.S. DOE radioactive high level waste disposal contractors (at least two more besides asarco) CAUGHT sending illegal waste sludges and incinerator ashes to El Paso. You have ignored the levels of hafnium found at higher levels nearer the stacks — an element mostly used in nuclear control rods.

Please stop the tours.

Response in regard to Tours: The former Asarco El Paso Smelter Site has been extensively investigated and the issues surrounding handling of wastes have been addressed. Environmental monitoring is performed throughout the project and the data has been reviewed by both EPA and TCEQ, as well as industrial hygienists charged with assuring compliance with the applicable health, safety and environmental regulations as directed by those agencies. On this basis we believe the Site is safe for guided tours of short duration.

Response in regard to the Demolition of the Stack: Dykon Explosive Demolition, Inc. has more than 30 years in explosive demolition experience and is responsible for the felling of more than 100 stacks around the world. Dust suppression techniques will be customized to address any area where dust is anticipated to be generated. Additionally, traffic will be controlled and rerouted, as necessary, by the El Paso Police Department on the day of the demolition.

You mentioned in the press/media years ago that as a young person you had assisted a local Catholic Priest in Sunday worships. I hope that you will repent what you are doing and quit and get out of this business if it does not let you be honest with us. Even the integrity of the local head of the clean up firm you are using has come under scrutiny by having his powers as Trustee on the EPISD school board removed (David Dodge of Malcolm Pirnie).

No elementary school or personal housing should be built across the freeway on top of the old lead ASARCO dump (it has not been touched or remediated). Be honest with this community.

Response: As you may be aware, the City of El Paso in 2010 commissioned a development study of various parts of the City, including the former ASARCO site from the city planning firm Dover Kohl. The development study included a community interaction phase that solicited input from the community regarding their vision for the future of the former ASARCO property. The Dover Kohl study recommended that the former ASARCO site properties west of I-10, i.e., the primary plant site and the area between Paisano Drive and the Rio Grande formerly called Smeltertown, would be zoned for commercial/light industrial use. These properties are not zoned for residential use.

However, the former ASARCO properties east of I-10, which were not part of the plant site but did have wastes disposed on them, potentially could be utilized for residential uses if the properties could be cleaned up to residential health and safety standards. The Trust is currently investigating the extent of contamination on these properties and the cost of cleaning them up to residential standards. Based on the findings of the investigation, the Trust will make a decision as to whether these properties could be developed as residential. As we have in the past, the Trust will confirm with TCEQ and EPA the desired uses for all of the properties and will announce its decisions via the Trust’s website and the media.

It is common scientific knowledge that the chemicals illegally disposed of in our El Paso ASARCO stacks can be associated with leukemias, birth defects including loss of organs at birth ( brain, limb/s) , cancers, and other diseases. It is also common knowledge that the slag does not hold the chemicals forever and that every ten years 10 percent of the materials have off-gassed or leached out.

Response: The Trust was not provided with resources or mandate to address past physical injuries that may have been incurred by any person who worked at the ASARCO plant, and was not provided with resources or mandate to address ASARCO’s “actions,” legal or otherwise, while it owned the site. The Trust is tasked with: 1) coming up with the best remedial plan achievable with the money provided by the bankruptcy court to address the environmental concerns and 2) to sell the property according to the appropriate uses allowed by the TCEQ and EPA, in conjunction with consultation with the City of El Paso on the use and sale of the property; the Trust is committed to fulfilling these tasks.

Again, I plead with you to be honest with the people of this region or quit.

Response: The Trust has been completely transparent in its discussions regarding the constituents of concern at the Site and made available to the public all material it has and there is nothing kept “secret” by the Trust. Any other documents not in our possession are available from TCEQ or EPA. For the current cleanup program, the Trust has posted on its website all documents it produces in the form of plans, specifications, presentations and reports. The allegation that the Trust, which is charged with cleaning up the Asarco site, is somehow withholding information or failing to pursue issues relevant to health and safety of the community is simply false and unsupported by its actions.

Heather McMurray, M.S. Biological sciences , certified/highly qualified composite science teacher

1 Response Add a Comment

  1. Comment by Heather McMurray — April 2, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    The G.A.O. study was not a study done about Asarco. It was a general study about how the US military in general handled disposal of haz. waste. It proves NOTHING about the culpability of ASARCO in the incineration of over 600 rail shipments of illegal hazardous wastes. In fact, this argument used by Trustee Puga is the SAME EXACT ARGUMENT used by a senior ASARCO Attorney (phone conversation). What a coincidence.

    As far as Trustee Puga claiming “The allegation that the Trust, which is charged with cleaning up the Asarco site, is somehow withholding information or failing to pursue issues relevant to health and safety of the community is simply false and unsupported by its actions.” is not true. It is false and we have plenty of data, already posted to the internet and used in classes and by scientists nationwide, to show it.

    Heather McMurray April 1 2013

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