Volunteers clean Asarco demolition dust at school

By Lorena Figueroa – El Paso Times

Dozens of parents and teachers joined this week to clean the Educando a la Ninez Preschool and Elementary in the Ladrillera de Juarez neighborhood in Juarez. Classes were canceled this week. (Jesus Alcazar / El Paso Times)

JUAREZ — A week after the Asarco smokestacks were demolished, the aftermath of the blasts is still evident in the Ladrillera de Ju├írez neighborhood, one of the neighborhoods closest to the Rio Grande and the Asarco site.

For the past two days, dozens of parents and teachers have volunteered their time to clean up a blanket of gray dust that covers the floors, windows, blackboards, desks, books and other supplies at the only school in the neighborhood, Educando a la Ni├▒ez Preschool and Elementary. About 180 children attend the school.

Classes were canceled this week because of the fallout expected from the demolition.

“Everything is dirty and smells like burnt metal,” Lorena G├índara said when she arrived at the school Thursday morning.

She lives a block from the school, where one of her daughters is in preschool and the other is in fifth grade.

Gándara wore a surgical mask and rubber gloves as she began to clean the chairs of one of the classrooms with a bucket of water with Clorox and soap.

“It feels like the day of demolition. Dust is everywhere,” she said.

Last Saturday, the 828-foot and 612-foot Asarco stacks came down in a matter of seconds.

Immediately after the demolition, a massive cloud of dust formed around Asarco and spread to Ladrillera de Juárez and other neighborhoods in northwest Juárez.

Asarco officials said that it was concrete dust. Tests done inside the core of the stacks before the demolition found no indications of anything that would harm people or the environment, they said.

Air-monitoring reports from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality said fine dust particles were within regulatory standards.

But Ladrillera de Juárez residents remain concerned that the dust was contaminated with heavy metals.

“It is like if Asarco were operating. Years ago, I could even taste the pollutants in the air. On Saturday, I could smell them again,” said Norma Vargas, who has lived at Ladrillera de Ju├írez for 25 years.

Her tiny two-room home, two blocks from the school, was covered with dust a few hours after the demolition, even though a bedspread was put over the cracks of a window, she said.

For decades, Asarco’s smelter refined lead and copper, and for seven years until it closed in 1999 the smelter illegally received and incinerated hazardous waste from the Department of Defense weapons facilities in Utah and Colorado.

Director of Ecology and Civil Protection Ra├║l de Le├│n said Tuesday that the agency had three air monitors working the day of the demolition — one at Casa de Adobe site, located at the International Park at Border Marker No. 1; another in Anapra; and the third a couple of miles east of Ladrillera de Ju├írez.

The dust captured by the monitors was sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in El Paso for analysis on Monday and the results will be available next week, he said.

The agency also used two seismographs at Ladrillera de Juárez. The vibration from the event was not big enough to damage the houses in the neighborhood, De León added.

Some parents who volunteered their time to clean Educando a la Ni├▒ez said they did not find any cracks on the school’s structure. Most of them said they were more concerned about the effects of contamination from the fallen stacks in the near future.

“I am concerned that my son and other children may develop allergies or serious health problems,” said Gloria Rangel, a resident from the Felipe Angeles neighborhood, whose 8-year-old son attends the school.

Educando a la Ni├▒ez coordinator Virginia Castillo said that, until Thursday, no Mexican authorities had visited the school to “offer their help” or take samples of the dirt playground.

Lorena Figueroa may be reached at lfigueroa@elpasotimes.com; 546-6129.

Source: http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_23067104/volunteers-clean-dust-at-school