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A toxic waste site the world will little note, nor long remember

3 April 2013

Via Frontera NorteSur (Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico):

Barring any last minute changes in policy or wind conditions, an iconic landmark of the Paso del Norte borderland will literally come tumbling down early on the morning of April 13. That’s the day when a demolition team using explosives is scheduled to bring down the remaining two smokestacks of the old American Smelting and Refining Company plant in El Paso, Texas. Shut down since 1999, the historic facility has since been stripped of its salvageable assets, put to an environmental remediation and readied for the history books.

Photo by Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times

Photo by Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times

Overlooking the Rio Grande and still flashing red night lights like a foreboding frontier sentry, the former Asarco plant is located across from working-class neighborhoods in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and about two miles down the road from Sunland Park, New Mexico. Nearby is the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso and its surrounding neighborhoods. The tallest stack slated for destruction towers at 828 feet above the border, while the smaller one hovers 612 feet over the borderplex.


… the smaller stack could conceivably topple across the border into Mexico under certain circumstances.


…former El Paso Asarco worker Carlos Rodriguez warned of the stacks’ proximity to the American Canal, which delivers drinking and irrigation water to El Paso and Juarez, and the Rio Grande which runs parallel to it.

“When the stacks are imploded, this will shake the ground and who knows what and how this will affect the chemicals already in the ground let alone the questionable material that remains in the stacks,” Rodriguez said.

The Asarco property is a horrendously toxic waste site now (smelters are among the dirtiest of dirty industries), and getting rid of it is of benefit to the people on both sides of the border.  Bringing down the remaining stacks is essential to the cleanup, but we shouldn’t just let them disappear without noting one thing of value that will be lost when the plant goes … any reminder of its role in the Mexican Revolution.


Francisco I. Madero, who was doomed to never understand that the Revolution he was about to start was a social upheaval, had the rather modest goal of a political change, and some tweaks in the labor code that he was able to sell to corporate sponsors as a better way of bringing Mexico up to date than waiting for Porfirio Diaz to croak, and risking violent upheavals that would interfere with U.S. business interests. Like those of Meyer Guggenheim, at the time the CEO of the American Smelting and Refining Company, who generously loaned the shed on the Juarez side of the ASARCO plant for use as the Provisional Capital of what was to be a transition government.

Notice the telephone company logo hanging on the wall (on the right hand side of the photo).  Madero was a master of, if nothing else, finding corporate sponsorship and probably was the only revolutionary in history to hit on selling product placement rights.  In return for Bell Telephone running a line from the ASARCO plant out to the shed, thus giving the Provisional Capital what at the time was a high-tech link to the outside world,  Bell Telephone got their sign seen in news photos throughout the United States and around the world.

Even if that chimney comes crashing down the wrong way, landing with a loud thud in Juarez, it won’t be either the first, nor the last, time that U.S. corporate interests have landed on Mexicans with violent and unpredictable results.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Smokesilver permalink
    3 April 2013 7:29 pm

    I believe that the Asarco remains have belonged to a Mexican company for several years.

    • 3 April 2013 9:08 pm

      Grupo Mexico sort of ended up with ASARCO (which used to be a subsidiary of the company now known as ASARCO), which spun it off so it could be put into bankruptcy. It’s kind of a mess, but at the time of the Revolution, it was a major corporation, and one of the Dow Jones Industrials.

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