Protesters rally to delay ASARCO demolition

By Jesse Martinez and Bill Melugin – KFOX14

EL PASO, Texas — A group of protesters rallied in downtown El Paso in hopes of delaying the highly controversial demolition of the ASARCO smokestacks.

Concerned citizens and members of El Paso AWARE (Answers Wanted on ASARCO Remediation and our Environmental Health) gathered in downtown El Paso and cited environmental concerns behind the April 13 demolition of the smokestacks.

“The (US) Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have failed to provide El Pasoans with a transparent and participatory process for remediation of ASARCO,” said Carlos Rodriguez, an ASARCO ex-worker and volunteer with El Paso AWARE. “We’ve been left out of important decisions on a site we know illegally burned hazardous materials. This is our community. We want answers before it’s too late.”

“Since 2004 we have been fighting for good testing, not just testing 5 to 10 feet into the ground, but testing 20 feet because sulfuric acid and nitric acid is in there. The prohibited military waste that went in there secretly, is there,” said Daniel Arellano, a former ASARCO worker.

Tempers flared when several women showed up who began yelling that the stacks need to come down.

“Call the Citizens for a Healthy Bay in Tacoma, Washington! They brought down their almost 700-foot ASARCO smokestack over a decade ago, with no ill effects,” said Lisa McNeil. “There are already tons and tons of carcinogenic material that are going to be buried on the site, not just the smokestacks, tons of that material will be buried and capped!”

“Shut up, you are wrong!” shouted another man.

The group of protestors marched to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality building, and demanded to speak to TCEQ’s director, Lorina Gardner.

When Gardner came downstairs to address the protestors, she was bombarded with questions about chemical hazards associated with the ASARCO smokestacks, and what the protestors describe as a severe lack of testing.

“Let me just say that we are in the process of analyzing, and you will receive answers to your questions, we would just like to ask you to wait for those answers,” Gardner said.

KFOX14 contacted the Citizens for a Healthy Bay, located in Tacoma, Wash., to ask about a 562-foot ASARCO smokestack that was demolished in 1993.

“Yes, we did see the dust cloud coming down, but the important thing was it didn’t go beyond the area where it would bring it into people’s homes, or dust the onlookers, or any of that, so all those protections were in place before it was done. It was a very successful, controlled demolition, and we didn’t have any problems with the aftermath,” said Leslie Anne Rose, manager of Citizens for a Healthy Bay.