Residents of Kern Place talk ASARCO soil issues; demolition

By Bill Melugin

EL PASO, Texas —

As the demolition of the ASARCO smokestacks gets closer by the day, KFOX14 stopped by one of the neighborhoods directly affected by the smelter site to ask its residents about their thoughts on the demolition.

Kern Place in west El Paso had previously tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their soils, leading many residents blaming ASARCO.

“They did soil samples in the front and in the back yards. They went down fairly deep, 6 inches, and when it tested positive, then you were eligible for remediation if you wanted it,” said Lillian Werthmann, a Kern Place resident. “We tested positive, but it was more than just lead it was arsenic as well.”

Werthman told KFOX14 that ASARCO then gave her a choice.

“They would replace what you wanted, or put in the rock, and I went ahead and maintained as much grass as I could. My parents who live down the road were remediated as well,” Werthmann said.

KFOX14 asked Werthmann if she recalls having an adverse health effects during the time that ASARCO was in operations.

“When we were in elementary school here at Mesita, definitely yes. There was an inability to run long distances, burning in the chest, yellowing of the leaves,” Werthmann said.

Werthmann said she believes that ASARCO did a good enough job of cleaning the neighborhood up, and that she has no worries about contamination due to the upcoming demolition.