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Friday, March 29, 2013 - 11:42pm
EL PASO — Two weeks and counting. That's how long is left until the Asarco smokestacks come tumbling down. More than two million dollars has already been spent on the demolition. Crews are working through the Easter weekend and nearly around the clock getting the Asarco site ready for demolition. It's a complicated process, but site trustee Roberto Puga is up for the challenge.
"My first project was a gas station cleanup when I was 22," said Puga.
He's since spearheaded about 10 major Superfund clean-up projects. Puga took us on a tour of the Asarco site, pointing out the work that's been done to prepare the stacks for demolition. Several dirt berms have been built to help mitigate the dust when the stacks fall.
From start to finish it will take only 5 seconds for each of the stacks to fall. The whole thing will be over in just 15 seconds. Demolition crews say they can typically predict to within a couple of inches, exactly where the stacks will land. What you can't see is what lies beneath the ground. Crews have placed clean soil and several layers of fabric in the ground to help cushion the fall.
"The materials beneath the grounds are contaminated and we don't want the physical impact of the stack coming down to mobilize that," said Puga.
Once the towers are down the real work begins. The stacks and millions of pounds of slag from the old smelter will ultimately be wrapped in a special plastic and carefully placed here in a strategically placed waste cell. It's a whole in the ground, lined with layers of special lining. It's located above the water table and the flood plain.
"And essentially you're isolating it from the environment," said Puga.
What's most impressive is that the entire site is slated to be cleaned up within the next two years. It's an ambitious project for an ambitious man.
"It could end up being the most challenging, high profile job of my career," said Puga.