UTEP interested in ASARCO property

By Lydia Garcia – Borderzine

El PASO, Texas — After many years of contaminating the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez community, Asarco is promising to clean up its mess. The land is highly polluted and will need an estimated $52 million to complete the project, according to Karl McElhaney, a spokesman for Senator Silvestre Reyes.

Once the property is decontaminated, the University of Texas at El Paso may be interested in purchasing a parcel of land. Richard Adauto III, UTEP Executive Vice President for Advancement and Oversight, says UTEP has already started talking with the Custodial Trustee, Roberto Puga, in charge of the Asarco cleaning up project.

“We are interested in getting the part of ASARCO’s property that is across Interstate 10 from the plant, but we need to wait for them to do their environmental research first”, Adauto says. They are not sure about the time it will take them to determinate the conditions of the land. “Then we will need to wait until they price the land to begin with the negotiations; this may take months or even years”, he says.

The proposed purchase of the ASARCO property is apparently not common knowledge at UTEP. Diana Gloria, the President of the Student Government Association, says she is unaware of the proposal. However, she is optimistic about innovative projects for the closed smelter. “For many years students have fought for ASARCO being closed. I think everybody wants to see something positive for the community in the place”, Gloria says.

But not everybody is positive about the remediation project or the news about UTEP’s interest in ASARCO. Carlos Rodriguez, a former ASARCO employee and member of the Ex-Asarco Workers group, believes that the El Paso community, including UTEP, needs to know the long-term detrimental nature of ASARCO.

“Business is all about money, remediation is not enough. We can’t forget that for many years ASARCO was illegally burning toxic chemicals, and they didn’t say (the workers) to what they were exposing us, they didn’t train us neither they gave us the material we need for protection. The land is too contaminated. Students at UTEP need to be aware of this”, Rodriguez says.

But one expert, Dr. Juan Noveron, a chemistry professor at UTEP, argues that “despite the fact of the lead contamination generated by the copper extraction process that resulted in several layers of soil with high levels of lead oxide, it is possible to engineer a construction method that makes any lead sedimentation reaches the deeper layers of the crust to promote such sedimentation to form rocky material and prevent any human exposure in the surface”.