The Doe Run Co. will have to pay a $1.2 million fine after state inspectors documented dozens of clean air violations over several years at the company’s Iron County lead battery recycling center.
The fine, which the company will pay in $400,000 increments over three years, represents one of the largest monetary penalties the Department of Natural Resources has issued in the last five years, state officials said.
The Buick Resource Recycling Facility, in Boss, Missouri, about 120 miles south of St. Louis, emitted hundreds of pounds of excess lead into the air, and officials failed to adequately conduct performance tests and communicate with regulators, according to an order company officials signed Aug. 29.
A company representative, in a statement, said Doe Run regretted not meeting Clean Air Act standards. He said the company was on track to meet commitments outlined in the August agreement.
Through the processing of lead-acid batteries and other materials, the plant emits airborne lead, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants, according to the 45-page order.
Because of high lead levels, the area surrounding the recycling plant was designated a federal lead “nonattainment” area in 2010. Doe Run entered into agreements with DNR in 2013 and 2014 in an effort to control pollution.
But, since the agreements, “Department staff have documented and observed through performance test observations, inspections, monitoring reviews, and record reviews numerous additional alleged violations by Respondents,” the August 2019 order said.
Among the violations included in the order:
• “Failed multiple lead emission performance tests from 2014 through 2016” at the Drum Shredder Baghouse that resulted in “up to 403.3 pounds of excess lead emissions.”
• The company’s “Breaking, Separation, and Neutralization (BSN) Wet Scrubber failed multiple lead emission performance tests in 2015, emitting up to 424.6 pounds excess lead emissions.” The report notes several other instances of unauthorized emissions.
• Failure to conduct annual performance tests of certain equipment, and failed performance tests.
• The company “vented uncontrolled lead emissions from the Hot Metals Building to the atmosphere from 2014 through 2017.”
• A company device failed to meet sulfur dioxide standards for 28% of 2016, and failed to meet carbon dioxide standards for almost half of that year.
• Doe Run failed to provide “complete, accurate, and timely reports and notifications” to DNR on approximately 908 days in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Doe Run agreed not to contest DNR’s findings. The order requires the company to comply with emissions standards and lays out a schedule for compliance.
“We strive at all times to operate safely and maintain compliance with existing regulations,” Steve Batts, vice president of operations and chief operating officer at Doe Run, said in a statement. “Regrettably, despite our efforts, including significant investments over the last several years, we have fallen short in a few areas.”
He said the company has addressed “many of the issues” identified by DNR, and said air nearby residents are breathing now “meets all current air quality standards.”
“Doe Run undoubtedly regrets that the efforts to achieve and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements have been unsuccessful,” Batts said. “We recognize that the performance was unacceptable and are committed to working with the State to address the issues according to an aggressive timeline.”
Connie Patterson, DNR spokeswoman, said Doe Run would have to pay the penalty directly to the Iron County School Fund, in accordance with Missouri law.
Jim Scaggs, Iron County presiding commissioner, said Doe Run this year protested its assessed valuation, which would affect its tax bill next year. If the company’s protest is successful, he said, the county would lose between $1.2 million and $1.4 million in tax revenue next year.
Seventy-five percent of that money is deposited into the coffers of the Iron County C-4 School District, Scaggs said.
Scaggs said Iron County has for decades coexisted with mining companies, despite adverse environmental effects.
“I don’t know what the future will hold,” he said.
Doe Run said in a statement that the county had used improper methodology to determine the company’s property tax bill, resulting in over-payment of taxes.
Doe Run touts southeast Missouri as “the largest lead-mining area in the world,” though Missouri production has slowed in recent years, the company said in 2018. The company closed its Herculaneum smelter in 2013.
The company operates a “secondary” smelter at the recycling facility near Boss. Instead of processing materials straight from the ground, the facility processes lead from spent batteries and other lead-bearing devices.
The company said last year it employed 300 people at the Boss recycling center and pegged its annual economic impact in Missouri to $1 billion.
In its 2018 Sustainability Report, Doe Run said it had spent $450 million in the last decade on “environmental projects.” The company says lead recycling will be key in clean energy production over the next several years because of recycled lead’s use in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage.
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