Protest seeks Asarco demolition delay


By Lorena Figueroa – El Paso Times

Juarez residents and some former ASARCO employees gathered to hold a rally/press conference to stop the demolition of the ASARCO smokestacks. The groups met at the International Park at Border Marker #1. (Ruben R Ramirez/El Paso Times)

A group of El Paso and Juárez residents came together on Thursday to call for a halt to the demolition of the Asarco smokestacks until more information related to environmental testing and monitoring is made public.

They also urged Asarco officials and Mexican and U.S. authorities to conduct additional tests to guarantee that tearing down the 825-foot and 612-foot Asarco stacks won’t contaminate the soil and the groundwater in the area.

The smokestacks are set to come down between 6:30 and 7 a.m. April 13.

“Taking down the smokestacks doesn’t mean that the risk of contamination is over,” said El Pasoan Carlos Rodriguez, a former Asarco employee and member of the newly created Answers Wanted on Asarco Remediation and Environmental Assessment, or A.W.A.R.E.

Rodriguez was among 10 members of A.W.A.R.E. and Save the Stacks that gathered at the International Park at Border Marker No. 1 to call for a delay in the demolition. The group also announced a protest set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the same location.

They were joined by a dozen representatives from Colectivo Contra la Demolición de las Chimeneas de Asarco (People Against the Demolition of Asarco Smokestacks) and neighbors from the Ladrillera de Juárez neighborhood.

“We are the ones who live closer to Asarco, and yet nobody has taken the time to inform us what is going to happen once the stacks are down, or showed us an environmental impact test that proves there won’t be any contamination,” said JosĂ© de JesĂşs MartĂ­nez, who said he has lived in the Ladrillera de Juárez neighborhood for more than 30 years.

Juarez residents and some former ASARCO employees gathered to hold a rally/press conference to stop the demolition of the ASARCO smokestacks. The groups met at the International Park at Border Marker #1. (Ruben R Ramirez/El Paso Times)

The Ladrillera de Juárez is one of the Juárez neighborhoods closest to the Rio Grande and Asarco.

MartĂ­nez said that neighbors, especially children, suffered from rare diseases and cancer when Asarco was operating before it closed in 1999. Now neighbors are concerned about the contamination that might have been left behind.

Rodriguez noted that, according to the demolition plan, the smokestacks will fall toward an area where the production buildings used to sit, which is where most of the incineration of chemicals took place at Asarco.

Rodriguez, who worked at Asarco for 30 years until 1999, added that the smaller stack will fall directly in the bedding building area, where toxic chemicals were stored.

“When the stacks are imploded, this will shake the ground and who knows what and how this will affect the chemicals already in the ground, let alone the questionable material that remains in the stacks,” he said.

From 1991 to 1998, the Asarco El Paso smelter illegally received and incinerated hazardous waste from Department of Defense weapons facilities in Utah and Colorado.

Documented violations resulted in a $5.5 million fine from the Department of Justice.

Asarco Site Custodial Trustee Roberto Puga has said that, once the stacks are demolished, hazardous materials will be buried in a containment cell on Asarco property.

The Asarco trust has also done environmental impact tests which have been shared with local, state and federal Mexican authorities.

This week information in Spanish on the demolition and answers to questions people might have on the burial of the hazardous materials was posted at

Director of Civil Protection EfrĂ©n Matamoros said Wednesday that the Environmental and Natural Resources Agency, or Semarnat, and the Environment Protection Office, or Profepa, reviewed Asarco’s environmental tests and concluded that “the contamination levels are going to be safe in the impact area.”

But Juan Carlos MartĂ­nez, one of the members of the collective, said those tests are not serious studies because they were not done by Mexican and U.S. environmental authorities.

Some A.W.A.R.E. members went on to allege the tests are based on Asarco’s own testings in the 1990s.

The protesters criticized the secrecy in which environmental tests and plans of the demolition have been carried out, disregarding the community’s opinion and not revealing them during a public hearing.

They point out that the majority of people who live closest to Asarco in Juárez do not have access to the Internet nor have a computer to read about the stacks’ demolition plan in the trust’s website.

Lorena Figueroa may be reached at; 546-6129.