By Brandon Robinson
The recent closure of the 150 year old Doe Run lead smelting plant in Herculaneum, Missouri caused quite a stir. Conspiracy theories continue to abound in a community used to finding new gun control schemes under every rock from D.C. and San Francisco. For many, this closure was, at best, an example of the heavy-handedness of the EPA, again wreaking havoc on a beleaguered manufacturing sector. At worst, the closure was a malicious attempt by the Obama administration to use the EPA’s thugs to further squeeze the civilian market for ammunition. In this case, however . . .
a little digging reveals that the Doe Run plant – built close to the Lake City Ammunition facility on which a large portion of the military supply chain depends – has developed a cheaper, cleaner and safer alternative to traditional lead smelting. An article published in February 2011 at mining.com, (“your source for global mining news”) describes the new “hydrometallurgical lead smelting process” which occurs when “a proprietary lead-bearing solution exposed to an electric current, which ‘electrowins’ the lead metal to cathode sheets.”
In layman’s terms, acid is used to dissolve lead ore, which is then separated by negatively charging the lead ions and attracting them to a positively charged plate. According the plant’s management, the necessary infrastructure for the new process will cost only $30 million as opposed the $150 million that would have been needed to upgrade the existing smelting facility to meet new EPA standards. Likewise, the new process will be cheaper, have a far diminished environmental impact and offer greater efficiency at a “99 percent versus 95 percent” extraction rate.
With world demand estimated to almost double over the next decade, it appears that U.S. lead manufacturing is in for a bright future. Conspiracy theories or not.