The hearing went pretty much as I anticipated in Tuesday's blog. After a couple hours of charades that were video streamed live to El Paso from Austin, the TCEQ decided to approve the reopening of the smelter by a unanimous vote, 3-0. (To placate anti-ASARCO advocates present, one commissioner expressed reservations, but qualified them by saying, under Texas law, his hands were tied. It made all of us anti-ASARCO people feel a little better, I guess.)
Now I confess, one of my objections to the restarting of this foul industry dumping poisonous metals of lead, arsenic, cadmium and a host of other metals in unacceptable levels is the location of ASARCO's operation.
You see, ASARCO was established in its present location over a century ago on the outskirts of a small outback, western town. Today, however, El Paso has grown up and around ASARCO, absorbing it into the city's midst. The smelter is now just a mile north of the campus of the University of Texas, El Paso.
Anyone familiar with UTEP football in the 70's through the 90's knows their reputation for some of the worst collegiate football teams in the nation. Aligning almost perfectly with the state of Texas' reputation as the "Pay Toilet for Industry," it leads one to ponder if, aside from bad recruiting, UTEP's football program wasn't suffering from practicing/playing in a toxic metals laden cloud wreaking of sulfur? And maybe it's just coincidence that after the ASARCO smelting operation shut down in 1999, UTEP football improved dramatically, making a couple of post-season bowl appearances after the beginning of the new millenium?
Another mile or two north of ASARCO is a major shopping mall and downwind neighborhoods to its east have grown up all around the smelter in the past 100 years.
My objections to the reopening of this toxic industry are strictly unscientific and personal, unlike the State of Texas' loose "scientific" studies from this particular Texas Commission and it's even loser enforcement of those environmental standards. And yet, I am convinced my subjective objections bear some consideration, to wit:
- As a student of UTEP during the 70's, I walked between classes choking (no, no hyperbole here, I was often literally choking!) from the strong, strong taste of sulfur in my nose, mouth and throat. Every student attending university experienced this. Driving into El Paso late one Sunday Thanksgiving weekend night upon return from a California trip, I witnessed enormous discharges of noxious clouds raining from the 828 foot smokestack down upon Northwest El Paso while its residents slept.
- In the 1970's, the on site ASARCO "company town" had to relocate its employee residents and the community was bulldozed because it was so poisoned with lead from the smelter.
- In the 90's I learned of a wonderful university classmate who had resided on the blackened landscape of an ASARCO worker's neighborhood (see above picture), where her husband was employed as a company chemist, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Connection? I don't know. Like I said, my ASARCO reactions are visceral rather than scientific.
- In the 90's, designated a Superfund clean-up site as a result of ASARCO's operations, the company began replacing the earthen yards of homes surrounding the University. (I assume because that was cheaper than moving them out and bulldozing their neighborhoods?)
- Etc. (In the new millenium, ASARCO started up once more it's replacement of soils around homes in the elite neighborhood above the University.)
And so this Valentine's Day, El Pasoans were given the gift by the state of Texas of a possible future of toxic fumes they've not experienced in almost nine years. It's just another part of the great American Dream to dread, yet take solace in knowing the state of Texas has again preserved it's reputation as "Pay Toilet of Industry" over the health concerns of its citizens!