After the fall: What happens with the rubble

Miles of rebar to be sold, heaps of concrete used as fill

By Robert Gray – El Paso Inc. Staff Writer

As the sun rose on Saturday, April 13, the former Asarco smokestacks fell into heaps of rubble. The shorter, 600-foot stack went first, toppled by explosives, followed by the 828-foot tower. Then a massive cloud of concrete dust enveloped Interstate 10 until it cleared about half an hour later.

The rubble that was – until a week ago – two gigantic smokestacks on the former Asarco site will not go to waste.

It will be recycled and sold or used in the cleanup of the property terribly polluted by arsenic, cadmium, lead and other contaminants.

Indeed, site trustee Roberto Puga says what remains of the stacks, toppled by explosives on April 13, would boost the trust’s coffers by an estimated $300,000.

As trustee, Puga has earned $28 million selling off equipment and metals left on the 410-acre site. That’s over and above the $52 million originally budgeted.

Those dollars are being used to clean the property to a higher standard, Puga said.

Now that the $1-million system put in place to minimize dust during the demolition, including the water cannons, has been dismantled, crews are collecting samples of the pulverized concrete, Puga said.

The samples will be sent to a Texas certified analytical laboratory to be tested for metals, Puga said. The results will be sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and posted on the trust’s website,

“We aren’t expecting any issues,” Puga said, adding that the stacks were tested before the demolition as well.

After the stacks fell and the yellow fog dissipated last week, there wasn’t much to see. The stacks were essentially pulverized. The tops of the two stacks, which fell the fastest and with the most force, were reduced to one-inch pieces of rubble, Puga said. At the stacks’ bases, meantime, there are pieces of concrete as big as a small car.

The rebar left by the stacks, if laid end-to-end, would extend from El Paso to Alamogordo, N.M., and back. The rebar will be extracted from the rubble, sold and recycled, Puga said. He expects it to sell for $300,000.

The larger, 828-foot stack was built 60 years ago with almost 24,000 tons of concrete. The concrete, if it’s found to be safe, will be crushed to a uniform size and used to help level the site, filling old basements, dips, valleys and the like, Puga said.

A handful of the smaller concrete pieces would be cleaned, placed in acrylic boxes and given as tokens of appreciation, Puga said. Pieces of the stack are not for sale or available for souvenirs.

The toppling of the two stacks, Puga said, marked the halfway point of the cleanup, which is set to finish in 2016.

After the remains of the stacks are processed, workers will begin moving the polluted soil and materials collected from the site into a special waste cell near the Parker Brothers Arroyo that runs through the site, according to Puga.

Engineers will also start designing the cap that will cover the site and continue monitoring the groundwater to ensure that systems designed to prevent arsenic from leeching into the Rio Grande are working, Puga said.

All of that should take two years, he said.

The historic administration building, which stands only a few hundred feet away from the rubble, was not damaged by the demolition, Puga said.

Whereas Puga was unwilling to give the tallest smokestack to the city, he said he is willing to give the administration building to the El Paso County Historical Commission, or a similar entity, if it can demonstrate it has the resources to maintain the 130-year-old adobe structure.

Later this year, Puga said, a marketing team will begin to put together materials to sell the property.

“We’ve been getting unsolicited interest in the property for a while,” Puga said.

He hopes to complete the sale of the property just as the remediation of the property is completed in 2016.

“It is important that I shut down the trust as soon as I can, because it is expensive to keep the organization going,” he said.