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Juan Garza photo: Alan Pogue of lead in infants and toddlers can lead to nervous system damage, neurological disorders, loss of IQ points, lowered attention spans, behavioral problems, and even an increase in delinquency. Economic status can be an important determinant in the extent of the damage, since proper nutrition and landscaping can help minimize risk. “Over the last three or four decades, we’ve learned more and more about the effects of lead,” says Dr. Phillip Landrigan, professor and chairman of the department of community and preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “As we develop sharper and sharper analytical tools, we keep discerning effects at levels we used to think were safe.” Landrigan believes it’s only a matter of time before the standard amount at which lead is considered officially dangerous is lowered. “It probably would have been reduced a year or two ago,” he says “but the current administration anticipated the decision was about to be made and quickly reshuffled the membership of the advisory committee at the CDC to remove some pediatricians and put on people who had ties to the lead industry.” The Ammermans didn’t wait for the EPA. They removed Alyssa from the house and tested everything: the dust under the windowsills and inside air ducts, the water, her toys, and exposed paint. Nothing inside the house had elevated levels of lead. The EPA offered to clean up the soil in the front yard but not the back, where Ramirez-Ammerman says her daughter played. “It wasn’t in the front yard where she was exposed,” she says. “She played in the backyard but [the level they found] wasn’t high enough.” It would take six months for the EPA to complete its cleanup. Rather than simply trust the agency, the Ammermans covered every bit of soil in the yard with gravel and a whole lot of sod. “If we hadn’t had that second test, we wouldn’t have known, and she would have been exposed like crazy;’ says Ramirez-Ammerman. 1 am standing in the old Smeltertown cemetery when Juan Garza lends me the book Metal Magic: The Story of the American Smelting and Refining Company. It’s a blazing hot July afternoon, and the desert landscape offers no respite. Stretching out for several acres are gravesites in various states of advanced decay. A few are fenced-in monuments with clear inscriptions but many more are broken crosses next to coffin-shaped dimples in the dusty, bleached-brown soil. In the background, several hundred yards away, are the ASARCO smokestacks. Garza is one of a number of El Pasoans who have educated themselves on the history of their industrial neighbor. This cemetery, the last remnant of Smeltertown, is an important marker in that story. According to Metal Magic, the American Smelting and Refining Company began as a stock speculation scheme in 1899. The book, published 50 years later to celebrate ASARCO’s golden anniversary, noted that some of the same players who created ASARCO were also involved in “the mother of all trusts,” the Standard Oil Company. Part of the original combine included the El Paso Smelting Works. When that facility was built in 1887, on a tract of more than 600 acres along the Rio Grande, there was not much to the city of El Paso. The ore came by railroad from the Santa Eulalia mine in northern Mexico. At first the facility just processed lead, but a couple of decades later, ASARCO added a copper smelter. In the 1940s, the company constructed a secondary zinc fuming operation, which lasted until 1982. \(The lead smelter ended operations in 1985 for lack of material; the final smelter, for copper, was sidelined in As early as the 1920s, ASARCOand many people around the nation who lived near its facilitiesknew that what came out of the smelters could make people sick. The most readily apparent danger appeared to be from sulfur dioxide, which had a tendency to kill the crops in adjacent farmland. The terrors of lead and arsenic were not well understood. Airborne exposure had yet to be studied. ASARCO hit upon a remedy to its pollution problem that served many industrial facilities well for the next 50 years. Up until 1925, most stacks rarely exceeded 200 feet. As the result of litigation in the 1920s, ASARCO made a practice of raising its stacks to above 400 feet. Dr. Landrigan remembers that the early scientists at the EPA used to joke about it. “[They’d] say that the solution to pollution was dilution.” In 1949, ASARCO added several hundred feet to the El Paso stack. Almost 20 years later, it constructed an 828-foot stack as the centerpiece of its operations. The company was a solid corporate citizen in El Paso back then, and a handmaiden to the city’s growth. It donated land near the smelter for the started in 1914 as a mining and metallurgy college. ASARCO created a community for its workers. It rented them land on its property so that the workers could build houses. They called it Smeltertown. A current ASARCO official says there was even a company store \(but no paved roads despite the ASARCO needed all the good will it could generate, even back then. It proved useful for the company to maintain relationships with the staffers in the city’s health department. \(One sanitary engineer for the health department was 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/8/04