Remaining ASARCO stacks to be demolished April 13

By Whitney Burbank / ABC-7, KVIA News

EL PASO, Texas –

The two smokestacks remaining on the site of the former ASARCO copper smelter are set to be demolished on April 13, said ASARCO Bankruptcy Trustee Roberto Puga.

Weather permitting, both chimneys will be demolished at sunrise due to low wind speeds in the morning.

The stack swill fall “like a tree,” said Jeffery Bauguss of ERM, one of the companies working on the demolition. A notch will be cut out of the steel at the base of each of the chimneys on the opposite side of the fall and explosives will simultaneously bring down the 825-foot and 612-foot stacks.

Puga said preparations have already begun with the removal of insulation and dust from inside the stacks and all of the waste will be contained in a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality-approved a landfill on site. According to Puga, the cell is lined with a special coating to prevent leaching and contamination from getting into ground water.

Around 50 people attended Tuesday’s community meeting at the El Paso Public Library to see a presentation and ask questions about the demolition process. The 6 p.m. meeting was supposed to last an hour, but Puga fielded comments and concerns 40 minutes past the library’s closing at 7 p.m.

Many attendees expressed fears that demolition would kick up hazardous traces of the metals that had been processed for more than a century at ASARCO.

Puga said that testing for lead, arsenic and cadmium had already been completed and met federal, state and local safety standards.

According to Puga, extra safety precautions will be taken to reduce the spread of potentially hazardous dust and debris around the area in which the chimneys will fall.

Puga said raised soil mounds called berms will help to contain the dust and 20 machines creating mist clouds will be placed along the perimeter of the berms. They will also spread a foot of imported soil, a layer of “geotextile” materials on the drop zone.

According to Bauguss, Paisano will be closed three hours before and an hour after the demolition. The area around I-10 and Executive will be closed 15 minutes before and after blast.

Carlos Rodriguez isn’t convinced the demolition will be safe. “All the dust that was incinerated (at ASARCO), it’s not going anywhere. They can cover it up all they want.” Rodriguez, a 30-year former ASARCO employee, said he wants the stacks to stay put. “I know the plant inside and out; the stacks would probably be safer standing up.”

“We have the best in class team working on this, this is a tried and true technique and that we’re using a belts and suspenders approach,” said Puga. “We are putting mitigative measures on top of mitigative measures to make this as safe as possible.”

According to Puga, lightning or wind speeds faster than 20 miles per hour are the only factors that could delay demolition.

Puga said the trust has not set up designated viewing areas for the demolition but suggests people watch it at home on television.

ABC-7 will broadcast the demolition live on April 13.