Home Sweet Herculaneum

9 years 6 months 1 week ago March 23, 2007 Mar 23, 2007 Friday, March 23 2007 Friday, March 23, 2007 5:39:09 PM CDT in News

Cory Bates is a lifetime resident of Herculaneum, and he has fond memories of his childhood home.

"I like this house. I wish I could live in it now." says Bates.

But the house that harbors these memories is no longer safe for him or his family to live in. It's contaminated with lead emitted by the Doe Run smelter and will be demolished within the next year.

"It's kind of depressing to see your childhood home torn down." says Bates.

Cory's old house is one of about 130 purchased by Doe Run as part of a buy out plan, which makes the company responsible for buying and demolishing houses that are contaminated. Many houses were built near the smelter when it first opened in 1892 to house employees, but after more than 100 years, the houses and the ground on which they stand have high levels of lead, so no one can live there any more.

The Clean Air Act, introduced in 1978, made Doe Run responsible for the lead it emitted and the damage past emissions had caused. The company first addressed the problem in 1981 when the first state implementation plan, or SIP, was proposed.

A SIP is a plan created by the department of natural resources that lays out ways for a company to meet the clean air requirement. Gary Hughes, the general manager of primary smelting for Doe Run, has helped the smelter to become more efficient and reduce the amount of lead it introduces into the community.

"After every SIP has been implemented we've seen significant reductions in emissions after all those engineering controls have been implemented. In fact, since the 1981 SIP has been implemented there's been over 92% reduction in emissions by the facility." says Hughes.

Doe Run has monitoring stations throughout Herculaneum, which constantly check the level of lead in the air. The monitors usually show levels at or slightly below the clean air standard, but occasional they do exceed the limit.

The Department of Natural Resources recently proposed another revision to the SIP to address this problem. Hughes says the revisions should help the smelter to always stay below the clean air standard.

The changes in the SIP include: improved ventilation and dust capturing technology within the smelter, high-efficiency street sweepers to collect lead dust, full-enclosure of all the production processes and research into further improvements. Hughes knows there is still work to be done to protect the community from the lead danger.

"It's a continual improvement process, and that's what we've seen on the monitors here." says Hughes.

But Bates sees the new SIP with mixed feelings about its effectiveness.

"A lot of people are moving out, a lot of houses are getting torn down. But it is cleaning up the area. So it's a plus, and a negative." says Bates.

He is worried that Herculaneum residents are losing their town to Doe Run as it tries to clean up past mistakes.

"I would give them credit for trying to do at least something to fix what has gone on, you know, with the lead problem. I think it's a little too late - whatever has happened had happened." says Bates.

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