Did the White House shutter the country’s last primary lead smelting plant in Herculaneum, Mo., in a sneaky attempt by to enact “backdoor” gun control and quietly take aim at the gun industry as some people, including former Rep. Allen West, have suggested?
The short answer: Not exactly.
But as is the case with many of these “fact check” stories, this requires some explanation. So let’s start at the beginning.
The Closed Missouri Facility
The Doe Run Company’s primary lead smelting facility in Herculaneum, Mo., which has been in operation since 1892, will close its doors by the end of 2013, according to a report in The Southern Illinoisan, which was published in November but has gained new life recently.
The company said in a statement on its website that it decided to close the facility it would cost too much to install the “pollution control technologies” required to reduce sulfur dioxide and lead emissions as mandated by the Clean Air Act.
Another shot at the gun industry from the Obama administration, right?
Well, not really. It’s important to note that the Doe Run Company has been battling the EPA since at least 2003 and that the particular regulation cited by the company as the reason for the closure is from 2008 — before Barack Obama was even inaugurated.
Doe Run had originally planned to build a new lead processing plant that would have employed the newer, cleaner tech, but later decided that the $100 million required for the project was too much to risk. The company will keep roughly 75 of 145 employees on hand through 2014 to help prepare the property for “closure and repurposing,” the company said.
But after that, the final layoff tally will be about 145 Doe Run employees and 75 contractors.
“We have a very talented workforce and encourage businesses looking for dedicated, hardworking and skilled employees to contact us,” Gary Hughes, general manager of the smelter, said in the statement, adding that the company has been working to help employees prepare for the transition.
How Does This Affect Ammo?
Seeing as how the Herculaneum facility, which Doe Run announced it would close in 2010, is the last primary lead smelter in the United States, the planned closure has raised a few alarms.
After all, if this is the last smelter of its kind, who will make our ammunition? Will this closure, West suggested in a blog post Sunday, lead to a shortage of ammunition?
It does not appear that way.
Companies like Doe Run will continue to manufacture the lead used in ammunition because most ammunition in the United States is made from recycled lead that comes from secondary smelters.
“[T]he majority of the lead used by ammunition manufacturers comes from secondary smelters that recycle lead from car batteries,” Bob Owens of Bearing Arms wrote.
Doe Run has a secondary smelter facility in southern Missouri.
“More than 80 percent of all lead produced in the U.S. is used in either motive batteries to start vehicles, or in stationary batteries for backup power,” the company states on its website. “In the U.S., the recycle rate of these batteries is approximately 98 percent, making lead-based batteries the most highly recycled consumer product. These batteries are recycled at secondary lead smelters. We own such a smelter in southern Missouri.”
“Lead is used in numerous other products, including ammunition and construction materials, as well as to protect against radiation in medical and military applications. While most applications can use secondary lead, those applications that require primary lead will need to import the lead metal in the future,” the company said, adding this would only occur if demand rises above what can be provided through secondary smelters, which, according to numerous ammunition manufacturers, seems highly unlikely.
Ammo Manufactures Have Their Say
The Sierra Bullet Company said recently that it’s not worried about the Doe Run closure.
“Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility,” the company said in a statement on its website. “[W]e do not see any reason for alarm. We expect our supply to continue and keep feeding our production lines which are still running 24 hours per day to return our inventory levels to where they should be.”
“No impact upon any cast bullet manufacturing operation whatever. We do not use virgin lead, which is what Doe Run provided,” Brad Alpert, operations manager for the Missouri Bullet Company, told TheBlaze in an email. “We use foundry alloy from major foundries derived from scrap sources, purified and cleaned to purity.”
“The jacketed bullets companies (Winchester, Remington, Federal, et al.) use the same sources that we do,” Alpert wrote.
Steve Weliver of Cape Fear Arsenal added in an email to TheBlaze: “We have not begun production at rates that this will impact.”
“At this time we do not anticipate any additional strain on our ability to obtain lead,” Tim Brandt of ATK, the parent company of Federal Premium, CCI, and Speer ammunition, said in reference to the Herculaneum closure in a company FAQ.
Roughly 80 percent of “lead used in the United States secondary market (which is what most ammunition manufacturers use) comes from recycled batteries and another 7 percent to 9 percent of lead on the market comes from other scrap sources,” Owens reported, citing Daniel Hill, Operations Manager at Mayco Industries. “Only 10 percent of the lead in the U.S. comes from mining.”
Simply put, the shuttering of the Herculaneum facility could have an impact as far as demand for primary lead is concerned — but it’s questionable whether that will affect the ammunition market. The lead used in ammunition will still be available and it would seem like a stretch to say that the EPA forcing a Missouri plant to shut down is a “back door” ploy to enact stricter gun control.
President Obama had little, if anything, to do with the longstanding battle between the EPA and the Doe Run Company. Further, if one is to take ammunition manufactures at their word, it does not appear that the Herculaneum closure will have any affect on the availability of ammunition in the United States.
Now it could be that the Obama administration is cheering the closure of the facility and the possible message it sends. But that’s a maybe. And since many are saying it won’t affect the gun industry, it’s hard to know what message that would be. In short, there is too much that we don’t know.
“Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead? Sure, but how much is unknown,” the Sierra Bullet Company said on its website. “Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time.”
So where did West get his information? The post that appears on West’s site is based almost entirely on an article from a site called noisyroom.net. The West post originally appeared without attribution to noisyroom.net.
West’s staff later updated his site to include citation to the original blog, telling TheBlaze in an email that the “omission of attribution” was an editorial mistake.
TheBlaze contacted the author of the original article, Terresa Monroe-Hamilton, and she confirmed that portions of her article were used without her knowledge. However, she said in an email that West’s staff apologized to her for the oversight, adding that the apology was “sufficient and gracious.”
As for where Monroe-Hamilton got her information, she clarified “the piece was more my opinion than anything else.”
Michele Hickford, the editor in chief of West’s site, responded to an inquiry from TheBlaze in an email: “Per Terresa’s [Monroe-Hamilton] POV the fact is the plant didn’t close under Bush, it is closing under Obama. Allen believes that closing this plant and others will set precedent and is intended to lead to gun control and infringement of the Second Amendment.”
Hickford added: “There’s just too much ‘coincidence’ with all these events.”
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This post has been updated.