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TheStreet Open House

End of an era as smelter closes in Missouri town

Doe Run purchased around 150 homes through a voluntary buyout program. The Wardens sold their house in 2004 and moved to nearby Festus.

Today, much of the area around the plant is vacant and fenced-in, with posted warnings about the presence of lead. A few homes still stand near the smelter but most are unoccupied, used only by police and fire departments for training.

In addition to the buyout, Doe Run spent $14 million to remove lead-contaminated soil from nearly 700 properties a¿¿ mostly residential yards but also school grounds, parks and other land. The contamination came partly from lead that spilled from trucks constantly going to and from the smelter.

The company also spent nearly $12 million in 2007 to reduce air pollution at the smelter, said Gary Hughes, general manager of Doe Run's Primary Smelting Division.

After the smelter closes, the company has agreed to spend more than $8 million more for cleanup of the property, EPA spokesman David Bryan said.

The cleanup effort has helped. State testing this year found no Herculaneum children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

Doe Run decided to close the plant in 2010, briefly reconsidered, then confirmed its original plan to shut down, citing increasingly strict air pollution standards.

"The cost of the factory in the current economic and environmental climate just put the company at too much risk," Hughes said.

The plant will cease smelting at the end of the year but will remain open through 2014 for secondary purposes such as making alloys for specialty customers. About 75 of the 300 workers will stay on, and another 50 have been moved to other jobs, such as mining. Sixteen will retire, but the rest will be out of work. The company set up a career center to help them.

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