Last US Lead Smelter Makes Plans to Close, Could Affect Ammunition Manufacturing

   10.29.13

By the end of this year the last primary lead smelter in the United States will be closing. According to a press release by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the Doe Run facility in Herculaneum, Missouri plans on closing its doors in December. The smelter has existed in the same location for the past 121 years and is currently the only facility of its kind that can produce lead bullion from raw ore. Other smaller, secondary smelters only have the capability of retrieving lead from used items such as ammunition or batteries.

For the last 25 years Doe Run had been grappling with environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over strict new air standards. According to KBIA Radio, the news of the smelter’s closure received a mixed reception among Herculaneum residents. For the hundreds of employees that are facing unemployment and the many more that depend on the smelter, Doe Run’s closure is an end of an era. To the others that have long called for the facility’s closure, it could not have come soon enough. For years, some residents have claimed a fine dust permeated the town as a result of the smelter’s operation.

“This was all over,” said resident Jack Warden. “It covered the side-walking areas. Kids would ride their bicycle down the street and they’d see that dust, they’d lock the brakes up, slide the back tire around on the bicycle, dust would just go flying. And that’s what they were breathing—30 percent lead.”

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources took notice and issued a cease and desist order. After criticism from federal health officials and other agencies, Doe Run cleaned up the facility and took measures to lower their production. In 2002, the smelter finally met the Clean Air Act lead standard, but it was not long before the EPA added further restrictions. In 2010, Doe Run announced that it will not be modifying the plant to suit the new restrictions and instead would be shutting down.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Doe Run initially toyed with the idea of constructing a $100 million clean lead production facility in Herculaneum but later decided against it.

On a national scale, the NRA-ILA states that the plant’s closure could affect ammunition makers.

“What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible,” the organization said in its press release.

It is not currently known how far-ranging the impacts of Doe Run’s closure will be.

The smelter’s closure will leave nearly 145 employees and 73 contractors out of jobs, although some personnel will be retained for closing operations. The plant’s closure will be especially hard on the local school system, which receives $500,000 a year from Doe Run.

“We have a very talented workforce and encourage businesses looking for dedicated, hardworking and skilled employees to contact us,” said Doe Run manager Gary Hughes.

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