Besieged by Regulations and Lawsuits, Country's Only Primary Lead Smelter to Close

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posted on November 18, 2013
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How the closure of the Doe Run operation in Herculaneum, MO, will affect the future production—and, ultimately the availability and consumer cost—of traditional, lead-core ammunition remains unknown. The Herculaneum smelter, which has existed in the same location since 1892, is the only primary lead smelter in the country, producing lead bullion from raw lead ore mined in Missouri's extensive lead deposits. Several secondary smelters, where lead is recycled from products including lead-acid batteries or spent ammunition components, continue operation in other stateside locations. The lead bars produced in Herculaneum have historically been gone to ammunition manufactures for use in conventional ammo components such as projectiles, projectile cores, and primers.

Though the Doe Run smelter made significant advancements to reduce lead emissions in the past decade, in 2008 the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued new National Ambient Air Quality Standards that were 10 times as stringent as previous standards. In addition, lawsuits with claims of adverse health effects linked to lead exposure continued advancing through Missouri courtrooms. In 2010, a jury ordered former owners of the Doe Run smelter to pay $358 million to 16 plaintiffs who said they suffered health effects from lead poisoning. It was this double whammy that proved the death knell for Doe Run.

Further, on Oct. 11, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 711, making California the first and only state to prohibit the use of traditional ammunition for all types of hunting, despite strong opposition by a coalition of hunting and sportsmen groups, gun owners, labor organizations and law enforcement officials. Serial environmental litigator, the Center for Biological Diversity, is continuing its efforts to force the EPA to regulate conventional ammunition under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, though it has not been successful.

The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action reports it's unclear if Doe Run or another company can open and operate a new primary lead smelter that can adhere to today's rigid EPA standards. But when the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors next month, the domestic production of conventional ammunition—from raw ore to finished cartridge—will be American History.

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