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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, (“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.

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  1. I haven’t read the whole post yet, but Herculaneum has got to be the coolest name for a town I think I’ve ever heard.

  2. We also forget that most lead is recycled. As of 1998, 63% of lead was recycled. I’d bet that the percentage is higher now.

    • The vast majority of the lead that ammo companies used is recycled, too, as opposed to virgin lead ingots. I heard on the grapevine that it was on the order of 90 – 95%, but don’t quote me.

    • You’re right of course, recycling is important part of the supply chain… but that is a recent development. And in the case of ammo, unless you have a way to capture and recycle every bullet ever shot, lead IS being used. New lead has to come from somewhere. The fear mongering going on has included articles about how there will be no more domestic lead production… period. That is not true. There WILL be more new lead produced, more cheaply, and with a smaller environmental footprint. WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN for everyone! Now lets get back to $20/1000rnd bricks of 22lr…. yesterday.

      • Read a similar article that noted most of the recycled lead for ammo comes from car batteries. Now where the car battery manufacturers get their lead is not mentioned.

  3. Since the last American lead smelter is in fact now closed and the new process will need permits, studies, permissions, etc. from the same agency that caused that closure I still see this as reach around gun control. The seeds for this were started when the EPA reclassified lead as an environmental toxin 20 some years ago.

    • Lead is a neurotoxin, amongst many other things. If you truly feel it’s a conspiracy theory, feel free work a lead abatement construction job without a mask. I’d make sure your health and life insurance are paid up.

      • Come on; this is a little FUD-ish. He said “environmental toxin” which COULD be taken to mean “lead just sitting there in the ground.”

        Abatement is dealing with lead dust that that abatement process is, itself, stirring up. So, it’s kind of an apples to oranges comparison.

        If we go to what we can take to be a fairly “liberal” government source of information, we see:

        “Lead poisoning is caused by swallowing or breathing in lead.”

        {emphasis added}

        That’s a far, far cry from it being an “environmental toxin” unless you are in the habit of running around eating dirt. If that’s the case, maybe you have other things to fear besides lead.


      • Lead Abatement/Asbestos Abatement – idiotic usless GOVERNMENT projects to solve a problem that did not exist until GOVERNMENT created the process.

        • It was a problem and many people died or were permanently disabled because of heavy metal poisoning and lung cancer from exposure to toxic particulates. Most of the industrialized world was smart enough to ban lead in paint by the 1930s. The US/UK were the two major holdouts to stupidly allow the stuff to continue to be made well in the 20th century.

          In the same vein everyone knew leaded gasoline was toxic since the 1930s, but industry dragged its feet getting rid of it due to their not being an economical alternative.

          Asbestos itself wasn’t terribly dangerous if manufactured long strand and used selectively. Unfortunately US companies manufactured it short strand and PUT IT IN EVERY LITTLE DAMN THING. Which made it very hard to work with in a manner which didn’t put dangerous fibers in workers lungs.

    • The new process is already approved and they’re acquiring and integrating the infrastructure as we speak. They’re still processing virgin lead like they used to, but now they don’t even need to smelt it. They’re also getting purer lead and are able to make it a lot cheaper. I don’t see a problem here.

    • Yeah, boy, it makes you wonder how humans survived the previous 2,999,994 years of existence! Thank Gawrsh we got the EPA to save humanity from extinction!

      • There are two types of people who believe the EPA is beneficial; those mindless twits who have no idea how government works, and those control freaks who have a problem with other people learning how to become more self aware, independent of that government.

        (loved your sarcasm)

  4. Science, American innovation, technology and market forces making for a better world.

  5. You have to be seriously uninformed to think lead bullets are made from pure smelted lead. Bullets are made from recycled lead, mostly from batteries, not from pure smelted lead that came from Doe Run.

    The real conspiracy is that ammo distributors are sitting on tons of ammo and keeping the prices artificially high out of fear, not any real shortages.

    • Yeah, because most businesses don’t like to sell as much of their products as possible and turn a profit.

      You nailed it!

      Millions of new shooters means billions more rounds. Supply and Demand! It is that simple.

      • Prices were mostly stable for many years before Dec. 2012. Since then the Obama scare mongered mad rush to buy guns and ammo has leveled off, AR15s are 600.00 again, yet ammo prices have remained artificially high. I ordered a case of ammo, was given an order number and online receipt, the order was cancelled the next day and said OUT OF STOCK. 4 days later the same ammo was back for sale with a 20% hike. This is just gouging, not based on supply and demand. The historical model of supply and demand has been replaced with fear based inflation, embedded in the ongoing “Obama effect” that we have a destabilized govt, therefore fear drives inflation.

        You probably think there is a shortage of gasoline based on the current prices. The fact is there is no shortage of crude oil, refining ability, or raw gasoline. The price is 3.50 a gallon because of fear, primarily of an inept anti business govt, not supply and demand.

        • Ammo stocks really depend on where you live. Around where I’m at, the shelves are almost always full again like they used to be, albeit the prices are still a little bit on the high side, but the price tag for all of the common calibers (and even some of the uncommon ones) have come down by over two-thirds since the last gun control scare. A lot of distributors really aren’t sitting on “huge piles” of ammo. Besides, gun and ammunition scares like this have for a fact happened more than a couple times in the past, too. Not quite on this scale, I’ll grant you, but it has happened from time to time.

        • Sorry bud, the free market DOES exist, and it still functions fairly well in the commodities market. The only reason that gas is hovering at $3.50 per gallon is because we have tapped the tar sands. Exploiting THAT resource is only cost effective at about $3.00+. It’s expensive to pump water and chemicals into the ground! Chinese and South Asian demand was ratcheting up prices for awhile, which has been offset by new U.S. and Canadian production.

          Supply and demand still applies in the ammo world too. The only reason that I still can’t get .22lr is because people like you are lined up at Walmart at 6am. The manufacturers won’t expand supply because the moment they build a new multi-million dollar plant, demand will fall off dramatically. Why? Because when the scarcity ends, paranoia buying will stop. That doesn’t mean that manufacturers are purposely promoting scarcity to encourage paranoia, but rather the opposite; paranoia is promoting scarcity.

        • To “Readmore” I dont even shoot .22LR nor shop at Walmart, but thanks for envisioning me. I have around 50K rds of centerfire ammo, bought many years ago NOT at Walmart, but the subject of ammo price manipulation interests me. Hopefully your ire will be less towards me in the future when you know I am not hoarding your precious 22LR at Walmart.

          PS: the reason gas prices remain high is because of Obama. No other reason. Keep trying tho.

    • The real conspiracy is that ammo distributors are sitting on tons of ammo and keeping the prices artificially high out of fear, not any real shortages

      I disagree with this entirely. There might be a few guys doing this, but not the whole industry. Sitting on Inventory is a bad way to make money. The manufacturers are producing and shipping more than they were a year ago. Hoarders and opportunists have got shipment times down to a science and are clearing the shelves the second the ammo arrives and then they are selling the ammo for a premium online. There are some local gun stores that are not putting high demand ammo on their shelves, but rather selling it online through their website or online classifieds for a high markup (even though their wholesale price was about the same as it was pre-panic) so they don’t have to face the wrath of their customers. As to the .22 LR market, manufacturers don’t want to expand production because they see what I see and that is that the bottom is going to fall out of the .22 LR market and prices would return to a pre-panic or lower level. Consequently, the manufacturers would never recover their investment on the expansion and retooling. As I understand it, .22 LR has one of the lowest margins in the ammo world and manufacturers haven’t really raised wholesale prices at all, so they don’t see much of an incentive in that area. As for online classified sales, I can find .22 LR for 8 – 10 cents a round. Granted, that is over double pre-panic prices, but not nearly as bad as the morons I see saying that it is cheaper to shoot their .308. At 10 cents a round, .22LR is still the cheapest thing I can shoot.

      Aside from .22LR, I have had no problem finding ammo at only slightly higher than pre-panic pricing. Before Sandyhook, I could get 9 mm in bulk for 21 cents a round. Now, I have to pay maybe 24 or 25 cents a round. More expensive, yes, but not devastating and I have no trouble finding it online and in the stores. All the box stores have everything in stock except for .22LR. There is a plethora of online sources as well. I just don’t see the ammo shortage thing. Yes, prices are 5-10% higher on average, but I can still find everything except for a few rare items.

      • Thank you for agreeing there is no ammo shortage. Therefore the law of supply and demand currently has no effect on prices, proving my original posit of price manipulation based solely on fear.

      • You are right about local gun shops engaging in this practice of marketing their decent quality .22lr through their online stores for a higher mark-up and then throwing a pitance of bulk .22lr crap on their shelves for their local customers. I recently discovered my local gun shop which has been my primary source of ammo for years is guilty of this and believe me I will remember when demand falls off (and it will). Word is getting around too.

  6. I’ll believe it when I see it on the lead smelting plants, but at least there’s hope. But (tin foil) maybe hope is exactly what they want us to have. “Don’t stock up, we’ll have a new plant opened up after we close the old one. Promise.” Get a reasonable amount of ammo and hang on to it. One day you may have too much which just means you get to shoot more. One day you may not be able to afford to buy much. One day you may not be able find any. Etc, etc, etc.

    The Keystone pipeline has study after study showing its safe and ready, with years of research. It’s been approved in nearly all the states (save NE and by our beloved president), yet how much oil has Canada transmitted to Texas through this pipeline to date? The government/administration is slow playing the Canadians until they just get fed-up and ship the oil to China. I think this is similar situation. Just because its “approved” doesn’t mean it’s not declined, under review or slow-played for a decade.

    The same with hydraulic fracturing.

  7. This new process is almost exactly how they have been refining copper for many years now…. Less polluting, and more efficient….. But you still need to burn something to produce the electricity…

  8. Good to know. It would be even better to shoot copper plated CCI .22 LR at $.05 / round. The only way to find ammo at that price is to build a time machine or be freakishly lucky.

  9. Brandon Robinson – you have your polarities mixed up. Electrons flow from the cathode towards the anode. The negative cathode attracts the positively charged lead ions, which grab two electrons when they contact the cathode and plate out. This is the same process that it used to plate metals such as silver on tea sets or chrome on bumpers.

    The chemistry involved to make a negatively charged lead ion would be so expensive as to preclude large scale manufacture.

  10. I’m confused. That article is from 2011. If they changed the process, why is the EPA shutting them down now? That might be outdated material above. Maybe they decided not to do the changes?

  11. The point is that feasibility has been demonstrated. With climbing demand, I bet this will happen pretty soon.

  12. Primary lead ingots made in China and shipped to the US are about $0.97 per pound.

    That’s less than 2¢ worth of lead total per 115gr 9mm bullet (note this is premium purity lead bought in China and shipped to the US and assumes all 115gr is lead, which is obviously not the case). And ammo mfgs use much cheaper recycled or lower purity lead.

    So basically lead is so CHEAP the cost is nearly inconsequential to the cost of manufacturing a bullet.

    China currently smelts 10x the lead of Doe Run and that’s with China’s smelters running at only 50-60% capacity due to lagging demand. A 5% increase would equal Doe Run’s output.

    Lead-acid batteries represent 88% of U.S. lead consumption. Others uses are ammunition (3%), oxides in glass and ceramics (3%), casting metals (2%), and sheet lead (1%). The remaining 2% is consumed in solders, bearing metals, brass and bronze billets, covering for cable, caulking lead, and extruded products.

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