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End of an era as smelter closes in Missouri town

December 25, 2013 • Business


In this Nov. 15, 2013 photo, a “No Trespassing” sign is seen on a fence near Doe Run Co.’s lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo. The nation’s only primary lead smelter and the unquestioned center of the tiny town 25 miles south of St. Louis, is shutting down for good, its operator citing rising regulatory costs. Despite the environmental and health concerns that include high levels of lead in the blood of some children and yards so toxic the soil had to be removed, many in the small town are saddened by the end of an era. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

HERCULANEUM, Mo. (AP) — From the day its founder arrived here, this Mississippi River town has been tied inseparably to lead, the heavy, dull-gray metal that has been mined in southern Missouri for more than two centuries.

As home to the nation’s only primary lead smelter, Herculaneum processes raw ore into metal to make car batteries, X-ray shields and many other products.

But the end of that long tradition is in sight for the small town 25 miles south of St. Louis that began smelting when this land was still owned by Spain. The company that runs the smelter, Doe Run Co., has decided to cease most operations at the end of the year, citing rising regulatory costs.

Lead has been both kind and cruel to Herculaneum, giving it an identity and ready jobs but also creating environmental and health concerns so worrisome that the federal government designated it a Superfund site and ordered tons of contaminated dirt to be dug up and removed. Many of the town’s children were found to have dangerously high lead levels in their blood.

Leslie and Jack Warden won’t miss the smelter. For 16 years, the couple lived less than three blocks Login to read more

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