Last Primary US Lead Smelter Closes
The end of an era has come upon us. The last large smelter, which takes raw ore from the earth and makes virgin lead ingots from it in the United States, is closing its doors in just a few weeks. Guess what most bullets are made of boys and girls?
In Herculaneum, Missouri is the Doe Run Company's lead smelter. This facility, in continuous production for the past 121-years in the same location, is the last smelter in the country that produces raw, concentrated lead. The very town itself was built at the closest point in the river to the lead mines of the Potosi area. Lead cannonballs cast in this town were used in the War of 1812. Minie balls shot in the Civil War, lead bullets fired at the Germans in the First World War, at the Japanese in the Second, and by you for deer last year more than likely came from lead smelted from these limestone cliffs.
The smelter's location in Missouri's "Lead Belt" is the primary reason why the government's Lake City arsenal--, which makes most of the ammo for the military, is just down the road. Olin's (Winchester) facility is located in Clayton Missouri. Remington's is at Lonoke, Arkansas, just four hours travel by semi-truck from Herculaneum.
Doe Run makes truckloads of these heavy lead ingots every day.
Without the lead, you cant have these
Why closure is this unavoidable
In 2008, the EPA raised its National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead by a factor of 10, set to come into effect at the end of 2013. This meant that the circa-1892 factory was hopelessly outdated and would never pass the new standards. After it, it was built during the Administration of President Benjamin Harrison, everyone remembers Ben, right? The cost to retrofit the factory was a conservative $100-million smackers. Worse, even if Doe Run somehow came up with the money and did the retrofit, fear of the next round of government regulation increases made it doubtful that the money could be recouped before more modifications were required.
Interestingly enough, the US wasn't even on the radar as a bad lead polluter compared to the rest of the world even before the new regulations.
Therefore, Doe Run, and its 140+ employees, who make up 5% of the population of Herculaneum is set to close in December.
Where will the next lead come from?
There are, besides Doe Run, several small recycling smelters across the country. These plants re-purpose post-consumer lead from batteries, tire weights, spent bullets, and other sources to make new ingots. It remains to be seen if there will be a spike in lead costs, including more expense due to shipping this super heavy metal to factories further from these small smelters.
Other than that, there is always China, who makes nearly four times the amount of virgin lead we do every year.
Or we should say, we did.