Doe Run Company’s primary lead smelter based in Herculaneum, Missouri — the last such facility in the United States — is scheduled to close in December. The Herculaneum smelter is currently the only smelter in the United States which can produce lead bullion from raw lead ore that is mined nearby in Missouri’s extensive lead deposits, giving the smelter its “primary” designation, according to NRA-ILA. So, will consumers eventually feel this shutdown at the retail level — for example, reduced supplies of bullet components, higher prices, or more alternative bullet alloys?
Cheaper Than Dirt! has sent requests for comment to many of the major bullet and ammunition makers, and one has responded so far. Sierra Bullets Plant Engineer Darren Leskiw said, “We have had many customers contact us about the closing of the last primary lead smelting facility in the USA. The main question asked is, ‘Will this shut down your supply of lead?’ The answer to that is no.”
The lead smelter has existed in the same location since 1892. The lead bullion produced in Herculaneum is then sold to lead-product producers, including ammunition manufacturers for use in conventional ammunition components such as projectiles, projectile cores, and primers. Several “secondary” smelters, where lead is recycled from products such as lead acid batteries or spent ammunition components, still operate in the United States.
Plant Engineer Leskiw said, “First, Sierra buys lead from several different vendors to maintain constant supply. Second, this facility only smelts primary lead or lead ore. This is lead ore that has just been brought out of the earth. Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility. The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, Misssouri that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.
“The facility we buy from is still going strong and delivering to us as scheduled. The lead from this facility is from recycled lead, mostly coming from car batteries. This is a continuing ‘in and out’ cycle for them, and the smelter closing will not affect this facility.”
According to the NRA, Doe Run made significant efforts to reduce lead emissions from the smelter, but in 2008 the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued new National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead that were 10 times tighter than the previous standard. Given the new lead air-quality standard, Doe Run made the decision to close the Herculaneum smelter.
Leskiw said, “Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead? Sure, but how much is unknown. Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time. There are many other primary lead smelters in the world, so the flow of primary lead will not be shut off.”
“In short, we do not see any reason for alarm,” Leskiw said, “We expect our supply to continue and keep feeding our production lines, which are still running 24 hours per day to return our inventory levels to where they should be.”
About 145 employees of the Doe Run lead smelter will lose their jobs at the end of December because of the plant’s closure, the Doe Run Co. said. An additional 73 contractor jobs also will be eliminated. The plant announced in 2010 that it will cease operations at the end of this year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the company “made a business decision” to shut down the smelter instead of installing pollution control technologies needed to reduce sulfur dioxide and lead emissions as required by the Clean Air Act. The Doe Run Co. announced last year that it had dropped plans to build a new lead processing facility in Herculaneum that would have used a new, cleaner lead production technology. The company cited the $100 million project as too financially risky.