Posted: Dec 29, 2013 11:58 AM
Updated: Dec 29, 2013 11:58 AM
EL PASO, Texas (AP) A report prepared for the trustee in charge of cleaning a former lead and copper smelter property in El Paso shows for the first time unhealthy levels of lead, arsenic and mercury in several soil samples in a canyon-like neighborhood bordering the property.
The findings from an environmental engineering consultant remain under review, The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/1h6zKOM ) reported Sunday, although the custodial trustee supervising the former Asarco property cleanup said a remedial plan should be in place by around March.
Trustee Roberto Puga also told the newspaper the approximately 15 families who live in what's known as the Calavera neighborhood likely will be invited to a public meeting to discuss the report and to "address the specific remediation steps for the areas of concern identified in the report."
The Asarco site produced and refined heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadmium, and zinc for more than 100 years before it went dormant in 1999. Then under the burden of millions of dollars in cleanup costs, it sought protection under federal bankruptcy laws. As part of the court-approved bankruptcy reorganization, the Asarco El Paso smelter was permanently closed.
Puga said the trust has completed about 60 percent of the remediation at the site. "It is more than halfway over. We're $46 million into a $78 million remedial project," he said.
The Calavera neighborhood report showed arsenic concentrations exceeding residential screening standards in more than half the 33 soil samples taken. Lead concentrations topped residential standards in three samples, and one sample exceeded the standard for mercury.
Extended exposure to unhealthy levels of the toxins has been attributed to causing serious illnesses. And lead poisoning is shown to cause developmental problems in children.
"We've always suspected that there were hazardous substances in this area," Gabriel Ruiz, 59, whose 84-year-old father has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years, told the newspaper.
Ana Lilia Alvarez, 48, said she was 4 when her family moved to the neighborhood.
"We all grew up together here. Some people here have died of cancer, including my mother who was 50 and led a healthy lifestyle. It might be because we lived so close to the smelter."
She said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency several years ago replaced soil in some of the house yards.
"But we can't seem to grow any plants in the new soil," she said.
The last improvements to the neighborhood were about 20 years ago when a sewer line replaced septic tanks.
But another resident, James Johnson, said he knew of a couple of people who have lived well into their late 90s without experiencing any serious health problems.
Earlier this year, two huge smokestacks at the old smelter site that had become El Paso landmarks were demolished.
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com