Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day from the Texas Commission on "Environmental Quality"

Last Tuesday, in my blog Q: What's in a name? A: Sometimes a lot of shit! I wrote about the final hearing by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality trying to decide whether or not to approve a permit allowing American Smelting and Refining Company to reopen it's copper smelter inside the city limits of El Paso. (It has been closed since 1999.)

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.

Note the blackened, dead Earth.

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.)

An El Paso neighborhood under the cloud of toxic ASARCO?

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!


Fran said...

Well then, some kind of legal maneuvering needs to be done. Find smelter experts, toxicologists, the superfund archives.... dig dig dig & fight the good fight.

dada said...

This is an ongoing fight, Fran. The mayor of El Paso as well as 3 cities, El Paso, TX, Juarez, Mex., and Anapra, NM have all expressed their objections to the reopening of this monstrosity, as has the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson.

Of course, Texas governor Rick Perry is staying out of the fray, having appointed the members of the commission who approved a new permit for this major polluter.

Stay tuned. A battle has been lost but the fight is not over!

Fran said...

Good to hear, because the more you dig, the more you'll find that will solidify the case against the smelly & toxic smelter. If they are putting a toxic smelter anywhere in Texas, it should be in Crawford, putting George's ranch just downwind of it.

D.K. Raed said...

Smokestacks & toxic emissions are not healthy, I don't care how much filtering & other nonsense is touted. I hope you prevail in this, for yours and all our sakes.

Just a thought: Hillary was in your town speaking at UTEP Tuesday. Coincidence?

ps, we are are at the beginning of a battle to stop a coal-fired plant 40-miles from here across the stateline. The neighboring state has assured us the emissions will not cross state lines. This is the same state that rained nuclear clouds of death & disease here for decades. It was originally approved as a natural gas plant, but somewhere along the way was changed to dirty old coal. It's called TOQUOP. The final insult? We have little chance of reaping the benefit of any power generated (although that possibility is being held out as a carrot, of course).