Despite officials’ assurance of Asarco demolition safety, some in Juárez worry

By Lorena Figueroa – El Paso Times

JUAREZ — Although the view of the Asarco smokestacks from Ermelinda Mata’s front yard is one of the best, she does not plan to be at home Saturday morning to see the stacks come down.

“Imagine what will happen if something goes wrong. I am not going to wait for my house — made up of metal sheets and cinder blocks — to collapse, and I don’t want to breathe all the dust and chemicals in the air,” said Mata, a resident of Ladrillera de Juárez, one of the Juárez neighborhoods closest to the Rio Grande and Asarco.

Like Mata, most Ladrillera de Juárez neighbors are worried about the blast’s effects on their homes. Some of the homes in this neighborhood are patched together with nails and wood. Others use cinder blocks for walls, but the blocks are not held together with mortar.

Residents are also worried about possible contamination that might get into the soil and groundwater.

The Asarco custodial trustee has said the 825-foot and 612-foot Asarco stacks contain no elements at a level that would pose a health or environmental risk during the demolition.

U.S. state and federal environmental officials have also said they see no problems with the demolition plan.

Mexican officials, who reviewed the Asarco plan and environmental impact tests from U.S. officials, also do not have major concerns about problems on the Juárez side of the border.

However, officials plan to close some streets at Ladrillera de Juárez and Franja Sara Lugo neighborhoods and establish a surveillance operation in the area at least three hours before the scheduled demolition.

Educando a la Ninez Preschool and Elementary, situated at Ladrillera de Juárez and a few yards from the border and Asarco, will cancel classes for all 180 students next week as a precaution, the school’s coordinator, Virginia Castillo, said Thursday.

Volunteer parents and teachers will be cleaning up the dust that is expected to build up from the demolition. They also will be looking for any cracks in the structure of the school for two days next week, she added.

“We decided to do this as a result of the concerns of the parents,” she said.

Castillo said she has received vague answers from the Civil Protection Department on the safety concerns that may be related to the blast.

“They only say not to worry, but why not? We all know that those chimneys have toxic chemicals inside them from the processes Asarco did for decades,” she said. “Authorities want to make a fool of us.”

Lorena Figueroa may be reached at; 546-6129.