ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) in El Paso has both a celebrated and controversial history. In 1887 it opened in El Paso, near downtown. ASARCO suspended smelting in 1999, due to a weak copper market and need for pollution control. Demolition of the last two smokestacks took place on April 13, 2013 and the skyline of El Paso was forever changed.
ASARCO was one of the largest employers in El Paso. In 1927 they had over 800 workers and a $1 million payroll. Later, they grew to employ over 1000 and offered the highest paying wages in the city. Pancho Villa worked there as a laborer before the Mexican Revolution.
In 1971, the CDC arrived in El Paso to investigate reported accusations of lead exposure, linked to ASARCO. It was found that from 1969 – 1971, the smelter stacks had emitted many tons of lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic into the atmosphere. ASARCO was sued by the city. The company disputed that elevated blood levels of lead, in nearby residents and children, were caused by lead paint and gasoline emissions. ASARCO eventually settled with the city.
In March, 2009, ASARCO filed for bankruptcy. The 458 acres of property are currently in an environmental custodial trust.