The 121-year-old Doe Run Co. smelter, the last place in the country where lead taken from the ground is processed, is days away from closing, leaving questions about Herculaneum’s identity and its future.
The town of about 3,500 is a Superfund site, a federal designation for polluted areas. In 2010, Doe Run announced it would close the plant at the end of this year and pay $65 million to correct violations of environmental laws at 10 of its lead mining and processing facilities in southeastern Missouri. The EPA said the company “made a business decision” to shut down the smelter instead of installing pollution control technologies needed to reduce sulfur dioxide and lead emissions as required by the Clean Air Act.
The company started this year with 296 employees; it will keep about 75 employees into 2014 to operate its refinery and strip mill and to prepare the property “for closure and repurposing.” Now Herculaneum, or Herky as the residents say, must figure out how to go on without Doe Run — its jobs, tax dollars, financial contributions to local groups and its role in the Missouri, and global, economy. And how to deal with what a century of smelting leaves behind.