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Getting the lead out ... safely

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Doe Run Company says lead is secured and strictly monitored when hauled to Southeast Missouri port.

On many days they can be seen entering the SEMO Port one after another -- large tarp-covered flatbed trucks. They come by the dozens, dumping as many as 60 loads of their cargo onto barges.

The trucks are hauling lead concentrate, about 75 to 78 percent pure lead, from the mines and mills of the Doe Run Company's lead belt region, located about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis.

In the area the material originates from, the effects of lead mining and production have had a negative environmental impact. Large parts of Herculaneum, where the company's smelter is located, has been contaminated as well as other roadways in the region.

But the company's hauling operations through Southeast Missouri pose little threat to the local community, said Gary Gaines, director of the state Department of Natural Resources' regional office. The primary reasons: the trucks are covered, and the lead concentrate doesn't blow around easily. Also, the routes to the port at Scott City have only been used for lead transportation for two years, unlike the lead-belt routes which were used for decades.

Due to market forces, the Doe Run Company has put more focus on foreign markets in the past two years, said community relations manager Angela Nations. Hence, overseas shipping was a must.

Nations said using the port at Scott City is the most efficient method for shipping the product to the Gulf of Mexico. The port is close to the mines and mills, and Nations said the port shares Doe Run's values of protecting people and the environment.

"We actually go beyond the governmental regulations," said Nations.

But Doe Run does have a tarnished history of pollution in the areas where it operates. The troubles were highlighted by a 2002 buyout in Herculaneum and continued this year with reports from the DNR that roads along Doe Run's haul routes had significant contamination.

Lead contamination is especially harmful to children and infants and can cause severe brain damage at the right levels.

"Lead is harmful to all biological lifeforms," said Gaines. Lead is toxic to humans. It can cause brain damage in babies and, when added to water, can be transmitted to any living being.

That means Doe Run has to be careful about hauling the concentrate from its mines and mills to the port. The DNR doesn't step in until some lead has been released into the environment, which happened in early 2004.

Gaines said the port self-reported some lead that was accidentally making its way into the slackwater harbor. Contamination was found, though not severe, and cleanup was ordered. The DNR also worked with the port, Girardeau Stevedores (the company hauling the lead concentrate) and Doe Run to implement safe shipping procedures.

Regulations already required trucks to be covered by a tarp to reduce contamination along hauling routes. The trucks back up to the dock edge and dump their cargo into the barge inside a windscreen that surrounds the lead as it falls, preventing stray particles from getting into the environment.

After the trucks deliver their cargo, the tailgates and dock are washed off, and trucks are given a thorough cleaning when they return to the mill. If trucks pick up more cargo instead of going to the mill, they are swept and washed on-site at the port, and all of the used water is pumped into a tanker that returns to the mill.

Doe Run has a trained specialist on site to make sure the drivers are following safety regulations. Now the company is examining ways to reduce the possibility for contamination further by installing a covered conveyor belt system for unloading trucks.


335-6611, extension 182

Doe Run Co.: A polluted history

Among environmentalists and regulatory agencies, the Doe Run Co. recent history has earned it a less than desirable reputation: Missouri's biggest polluter.

That reputation is based largely on Doe Run's 110-year-old smelter operation in Herculaneum. In 2002, Doe Run reached an agreement with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to offer a voluntary buyout of 160 homes near the Herculaneum smelter due to elevated levels of lead in children's' blood and suspected contamination of soil.

A DNR official recently told the Herculaneum City Council that the area wasn't safe for residential redevelopment.

More recently, the DNR reported in August that significant lead contamination was found along roads used to haul lead ore in the lead belt area, including on about 50 residential properties. The contamination was along Missouri Routes 21, 32, 49, 72, B, J, KK, N and TT in Dent, Iron and Reynolds counties.

Officials said 144 properties had lead levels of 400 to 1,200 parts per million, with 400 being considered unsafe for humans.

The Doe Run Co. is one of five lead companies that haul along the routes.

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