The Doe Run Company Provides Update on Closure of Last Primary Lead Smelter in US
14 Dec 2013
ST. LOUIS (Dec. 14, 2013) – The Doe Run Company (Doe Run) is entering its final days of smelter operations in Herculaneum, Mo., where primary lead metal has been produced for 120 years. Doe Run’s smelter, the last primary lead metal smelter in the U.S., will cease smelting operations at the end of December.
“Our final production days will be our best,” stated Gary Hughes, general manager of Doe Run’s Metals Division. “We intend to meet our customers’ needs in a safe and responsible manner. We will receive the final shipment of lead concentrates from our Missouri mines in the next several days, producing one of the highest grades of primary lead metal in the world in the final weeks of December.”
Doe Run’s Missouri lead mines and mills, which will continue to operate, produce some of the world’s highest quality lead concentrate. The lead concentrate is highly valued by metal producers across the globe. Lead is a key component of batteries used for transportation and backup power in a variety of industries, including technology, communications and renewable energy. Approximately 98 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled, turning the used metals and other components into new products. More than 13 million of these batteries are recycled annually at Doe Run’s lead recycling center located in southern Missouri, one of the world’s largest single-site lead recycling centers in the world. In addition to battery production, lead also has medical and military applications.
“Although we will continue to mine and mill lead, zinc, and copper from our underground mines, the ability to produce primary lead metal and their alloys domestically will vanish,” Hughes stated.
Following the closure of the smelter, 75 employees will be retained in 2014 to assist with continued refining and alloying, and the maintenance of our site.
Herculaneum Smelter Closure
In 2010, Doe Run reached a comprehensive settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Missouri. As part of that settlement, Doe Run agreed to discontinue its smelting operations in Herculaneum by the end of 2013.
“We saw no alternative to closing our plant,” stated Hughes. “We are aware of no primary lead smelting process that will meet the standard for ambient air at the Herculaneum site. We believe the only existing technology that can meet today’s standards in Herculaneum, as well as potential future standards, is the new electrowinning lead metal process we announced in 2010. We hoped to be building such a plant by now, however constructing a full-scale plant given other regulatory compliance spending requirements puts our company at financial risk. We may pursue a smaller scale plant if conditions become more favorable.”
The U.S. ambient air quality standard for lead emissions is the most restrictive in the world. In 2008, the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead was reduced from 1.5 µg/m3 (micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air) to 0.15 µg/m3.
Doe Run had hoped to bring the revolutionary lead metal production technology online prior to the closure of the smelter. This proprietary, new technology uses a wet-chemical, electrowinning process instead of a heat-based smelting process, greatly reducing sulfur dioxide and lead emissions. In 2012, the company announced that costs to build an electrowinning plant similar in production size to the smelter were too great for the company given the present economic conditions and other demands on operations.
Meeting Customer Needs
In the final days of the smelter’s operation, Doe Run will work to meet the metal needs of its customers, which include some of the largest battery manufacturers in the U.S., as well as manufacturers of radiation protection and radiation detection.
“Nearly every lead-acid battery produced in the U.S. is using lead metal that at some point originated with our mines and smelters,” stated Aaron Miller, Doe Run’s chief operating officer. “Today, much of the demand for lead and lead alloys can be met through recycling. However, specialty applications, as well as material for market growth, will have to come from foreign sources in the future. Without an adequate supply of imported lead, demand in the U.S. will soon outpace availability of lead metal.”
Doe Run has supplied 8 to 10 percent of U.S. demand for lead through its Herculaneum smelter.
Historically, the smelter in Herculaneum operated with approximately 300 employees. In 2010, the company announced it would cease primary smelting this year, and has since maintained its production with both Doe Run employees and skilled contractors.
“We have been working with our Herculaneum employees this past year to help them transition into new roles,” stated Pat Garey, talent manager at Doe Run. “We opened a Career Center in 2012 and have assisted employees with job skill assessment and development, resume and interview skill-building, access to internal and external job postings, and assistance with a variety of other resources. We have a strong, dedicated and highly skilled workforce. We are doing what we can to help them move into their next desired role.”
In November and early December, Doe Run hosted a total of four career fairs with area employers for its Herculaneum employees.
About The Doe Run Company
Based in St. Louis, The Doe Run Company is a privately held natural resources company and the largest integrated lead producer in the Western Hemisphere. Dedicated to environmentally responsible mineral and metal production, Doe Run operates one of the world’s largest, single-site lead recycling centers, located in Boss, Mo. The Doe Run Company and its subsidiaries deliver products and services necessary to provide power, protection and convenience. Doe Run has operations in Missouri, Washington and Arizona. For more information, visit www.doerun.com and sustainability.doerun.com.