The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Lead hurting families in Missouri, officials do nothing

Feb 18, 2002

The town of Herculaneum, Missouri has only 2800 people, but one fourth of the children under the age of six have lead poisoning. In other words, one of every four children could experience brain damage, possible hearing loss, stunted growth and kidney problems. This is six times the average rate of lead poisoning in the rest of the country. In such a situation, even adults are not immune.

For over 100 years, lead ore has been processed in the town at the Doe Run Company smelter, the town's main employer. This summer the Missouri Department of Natural Resources found lead levels up to 300,000 parts per million in the road near the smelter. This is 700 times higher than the allowable rate.

Doe Run claims to have spent 15 million dollars on reducing pollution last year, and it bought out the homes of 60 families nearby. But what about the rest of the town of Herculaneum? The EPA finally directed the Missouri Natural Resources Department to replace contaminated soil in the town. The EPA also proposed to TEMPORARILY move 100 more families while the work is going on. Meanwhile, the smokestack of Doe Run still spits out tons and tons of pollutants into the air. In 2001 the company produced 160,000 pounds of emissions. That may be better than 1,600,000 pounds per year, which was the range of emissions from the smelter a few decades ago. But it is still far over the limit.

Since the 1970s, lead has been banned in paint and gasoline. But medical science has known since World War II that lead was a deadly poison to human beings and could be spread in the air or under ground. Nonetheless, the U.S. government still today allows continuing pollution of this deadly mineral.

If the EPA were really to enforce a clean up, the first thing it would do is shut down the smelter. This doesn’t have to mean a loss of income. Doe Run has made billions by polluting this town. It can pay to maintain incomes and to clean up the pollution. Justice requires that those who cause the damage pay its costs.