Asarco stacks set to fall April 13

By Marty Schladen \ El Paso Times

Unless the weather doesn’t cooperate, the Asarco smokestacks will be demolished at dawn on April 13 — a Saturday.

Demolition workers will cut a notch in a section of the stacks that faces Interstate 10, a slot in the back and another gap in the middle. Then, when the all-clear is sounded, explosives will be detonated and the 825-foot and 612-foot stacks will fall simultaneously.

That’s the plan.

Details of the demolition were outlined Tuesday at a public meeting at the El Paso Main Library in Downtown. About 50 people attended and a few expressed concerns about the safety of the demolition.

For more than a century, the American Smelting and Refining Co. processed metals, including toxins such as lead, copper and zinc, on the site just west of Downtown along the Rio Grande.

Lead dust can be especially dangerous, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says demolition is a particularly good way to stir it up.

Elaborate steps will be taken to control the dust, said Mike Casbon of Brandenburg Industrial Service Co., one of the companies doing the demolition.

“We’ve vacuumed out the gross material inside these stacks,” Casbon said.

Earthen berms are being built around the drop zone to contain the dust that is kicked up. Twenty oscillating mist cannons will be mounted on top of the berms, throwing 150 gallons per minute as far as 300 feet to bind to the dust and bring it to the ground, Casbon said.

Once the stacks are down, metal in them will be recycled and concrete will be crushed and used as fill on the site, said Roberto Puga, the trustee in charge of cleaning up the site.

The drop area will be covered with a foot of fresh fill, a “tactifier” to keep dust from blowing and then a textile sheet to hold it in place.

The nearby American Canal, which provides much of El Paso’s water, will be covered with plastic.

The timetable for the demolition could be thrown off if winds at daybreak on April 13 exceed 25 mph. That could make it unsafe to cut reinforcing steel at the base of the structure and blow dust.

Paisano Drive, which is closest to the stacks, will be closed three hours before the blast and an hour after, officials said. Interstate 10 will be closed 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after demolition, mostly to avoid alarming motorists who would see the massive stacks falling toward them. One street in Juárez — Bernardo Norzagaray Boulevard — will also be closed temporarily.

Despite the safety measures, Carlos Rodriguez, a 30-year Asarco employee, was skeptical that the demolition and cleanup will be safe.

“The bricks and concrete are contaminated,” he said, and added that plans to landfill contaminated materials on the site are inadequate. “It’s not going to be enough to protect the site.”

Bill Palmer, a retired veteran, said it would be safer to leave the stacks in place, but Puga cited the expense of keeping them structurally sound.

The demolition is part of a $52 million remediation, which is expected to be complete by 2015. Puga said he hopes to sell the site in 2016.

The city’s master plan calls for mixed-use, high-density development on the property.

A facility such as a soccer stadium, racetrack or amusement park might be built on the part west of I-10, where hazardous materials from the entire Asarco property will be in a landfill, Puga said. The part east of the freeway could be used for residential development, he said.

Marty Schladen may be reached at; 546-6127.