Protesters seek answers, delay of Asarco demolition

By Alex Hinojosa – El Paso Times

About 50 people walk along North Kansas to protest the planned April 13 demolition of the former ASARCO stacks Wednesday. (Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times)

About 50 people gathered in Downtown El Paso to march to the front doors of the El Paso office of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to demand answers from the regional director about the demolition of the Asarco smokestacks.

The demolition of the 800-foot and 600-foot stacks is set for April 13.

Once the stacks are demolished, hazardous materials will be buried in a containment cell on Asarco property that lies west of Interstate 10, said Robert Puga, the trustee in charge of the cleanup process.

Members of Save the Stacks believe that the waste cell will hold only for about 20 years before the materials will seep into the ground soil and enter the region’s water supply.

Advocates of Save the Stacks and former Asarco workers spoke to protest participants in front of Foodville at 209 E. Mills, asking that more analysis be conducted.

Three advocates for the Stacks Down for Safety group interrupted the rally and asked that the members of Save the Stacks re-examine their information.

The argument became heated when Lisa McNiel, of Stacks Down for Safety, and members of Save the Stacks began to shout at each other about the process to demolish the stacks and get rid of the hazardous materials.

After advocates for the demolition left the area, members of Save the Stacks marched to TCEQ offices and signed a petition asking for a delay in the demolition.

Lorinda Gardner, regional director of the TCEQ offices, stepped outside to listen to the group’s concerns.

Paul Maxwell led the Save the Stacks group.

Gardner said an analysis was being conducted and urged everyone in the group to wait for answers.

“We are not going to wait for the answers — it would be too late,” Maxwell said. “You’ve already begun the process of demolition. We would hope that you could begin the process of stopping the demolition and do that right now.”

Gardner continued to listen for a while before heading back inside and taking the petition with her.

“I’m not going to talk over this,” Gardner said, referring to protesters who were shouting questions and comments at her. “I will take this under advisement.”

In response to concerns from the public, Puga said his team has conducted additional tests of the stacks from three core samples of the 600-foot stack and three core samples from the 800-foot stack.

Puga said more information about the extended analysis would be available on the website,, by Friday.

Alex Hinojosa may be reached at; 546-6137.