In a move that could affect ammo production, the last remaining US lead smelter is slated to close in December, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Herculaneum, Missouri, plant is owned by the Doe Run Company and had existed in the same spot since 1892. The smelter plant is reportedly the only place in America where raw lead ore is produced into lead bullion. The ore is mined locally and the finished product is sold to multiple companies, including ammo manufacturing.
When the lead smelter plant closes at the end of the year, the United States also loses its ability to produce lead ammunition from the process of mining to production of commercial cartridges, according to Patriot Outdoor News. The lead bullion is used for conventional ammo components including projectile cores, projectiles, and primers.
Nearly 150 people are losing their jobs. It would have cost Doe Run $100 million to build a new plant to meet EPA demands – a cost Doe Run said was too high.
Once the Doe Run Company closes its doors for the final time, only a few secondary smelters where lead is recycled from spent ammo components, acid batteries, and other products, will remain to offer American made ammunition projectiles and primers.
A release from the NRA-ILA about the lead smelter plant closure reads:
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. Whatever the EPA’s motivation when creating the new lead air quality standard, increasingly restrictive regulation of lead is likely to affect the production and cost of traditional ammunition. 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 Center for Biological Diversity has reportedly attempted to ban lead ammunition at the federal level multiple times and failed. The center wanted the EPA to regulate conventional ammo under the Toxic Substances Control Act. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a lead ammo hunting ban into law.
The Toxic Substances Control Act gives the EPA the power to collect data on chemicals in order to assess, evaluate, mitigate and control the risks which could potentially be caused by the use, manufacture of processing of the materials.
Even if the data available after a chemical is submitted to the EPA is not deemed sufficient to evaluate the substance’s potentially harmful effects, the federal agency can still impose restrictions. The Environmental Protection Agency also possesses the authority, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, to restrict new uses of materials currently under review. Section 6 in the act granted the EPA supervisory control over polychlorinated biphenyls, chlorofluorocarbons, asbestos and lead. The EPA said sulfur dioxide and lead emissions around the plant were above safe levels.
Doe Run Company initiated layoffs in September and has been working with as many employees as possible to transition them to new positions within the company. In a release about the closure of the last lead smelting plant in the United States, the EPA called the shutdown merely a “business decision.”
The lead manufacturer would have had to install pollution control technologies designed to reduce lead and sulfur dioxide emissions to remain in business. Lead smelter plant general manager Gary Hughes encouraged any business looking for “dedicated, hardworking, and skilled employees” to contact them.