So as has been reported since November, the last American lead smelter is closing its doors after 121 years in service. (The Doe Run Company 2013) Naturally, the pundits have been citing this as encroaching alternative government gun control, rampant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, or something even more sinister. However, if folks were to just step back and breathe for a few minutes, and perhaps do some research into the issue before frothing at the mouth, they may realize the impacts to the availability and cost of commercial ammunition to the consumer will likely have a minor impact.
The Doe Run Company in Herculaneum, Missouri has been open since 1892 (previously it was also known as the St. Joseph Lead Company which started lead mining on a small-scale in southeastern Missouri. In 1892 it started up its smelter in Herculaneum, where all smelting was consolidated in 1920) and until earlier this year, has utilizing recycled lead to produce the raw materials used in a variety of products. It’s primary production efforts are geared to provide the materials for car batteries and ammunition. However as Ed Throop, the executive director of the Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities (BMU) illustrates,
“Over the years, the [BMU] board has “done everything we can to comply. But BMU is facing a bill of $6 million to meet the EPA’s [Clean Air Act] regulations [as written in 2003 under the Bush Administration] mandating a low NOx burner, and the cost to comply with the new mercury regulations will start with “a couple million”. The cost for these adjustments could top $25 million to bring Doe Run into compliance. (Welton 2013)
After considerable litigation to please the EPA, the BMU and Doe Run managers decided it was no longer cost-effective to remain in operation. Naturally, political pundits like Allen West and others used the closure to stir the masses and gain public attention. In his personal website, Mr. West stated,
“At this time, it’s unclear if Doe Run or another company will open a new lead smelter in the United States that can meet the more stringent lead air quality standards by using more modern smelting methods. What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible.
Not only will ammo be even harder to come by, the demand and the process of supply will cause the price to skyrocket even more. And ponder this; there is an excellent chance that Obama will rig the market to where all ammo has to be purchased from the government instituting an ammo registration.
So America, back door gun control is moving forward and while we are all distracted with Obamacare and Iran nuclear negotiations, our Second Amendment rights are undergoing an assault by clandestine infiltration … [Obama] He is seeking to outflank, envelope, and destroy the Second Amendment. Now it’s our move in 2014.” (West 2013)
This dialogue demonstrates how the closure of Doe Run is used for political purposes and mass media propaganda. Mr. West is not connected to Doe Run, its former employees, the SMU, or anything else other than continuing a slanted message in an attempt to sway the sheep. However, thankfully industry leaders and insiders have tried to inject some logic into the market in an attempt to sway off another public panic on fears of continued ammunition shortages. In fact it is perhaps ironic that in a market of supply and demand, the panicked buying attributed to just the mere speculation of shortages would in fact predicate its own shortage and price increases.
Sierra, a leader in recreational ammunition sales and reloading materials, and Plant Engineer Darren Laski posted on the company’s official blog that the closure will have little impact to the costs seen by the consumer stating;
“We have had many customers contact us about the closing of the last primary lead smelting facility in the USA. This facility is operated by Doe Run and is located in Herculaneum, Missouri and is just about a 3-hour drive from our facility in Sedalia, Missouri.
The main question asked is “Will this shut down your supply of lead?” The answer to that is no. First, Sierra buys lead from several different vendors to maintain constant supply. Second, this facility only smelts primary lead or lead ore. This is lead ore that has just been brought out of the earth. Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility. The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, MO that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.
The facility we buy from is still going strong and delivering to us as scheduled. The lead from this facility is from recycled lead, mostly coming from car batteries. This is a continuing “in and out” cycle for them and the smelter closing will not affect this facility.
Our supply should not be in jeopardy and we do not anticipate any changes in our supply chain at this time. Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead? Sure, but how much is unknown. Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time.
There are many other primary lead smelters in the world and so the flow of primary lead will not be shut off. Where there is a need for primary lead, I am sure there will be a salesman more than happy to pick up the business. In short, we 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.” (Sierra: The Bulletsmiths 2013)
Likewise, Brad Alpert, operations manager for the Missouri Bullet Company stated,
“No impact upon any cast bullet manufacturing operation whatever. We do not use virgin lead, which is what Doe Run provided. 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.) all use the same sources that we do”. (Adams 2013)
But it’s not just the availability of manufacturers to obtain the resources they need for production. It’s also the Precious Metals: Lead Market that casts the light on all the hype as well. Industry and ammunition insiders cite current US methods for importing and developing refined lead as no need for immediate concern to the metal’s availability and cost. (BaseMetals 2013)
“The lead industry has been transitioning out of the United States for over a decade. Indeed 85% of the lead smelting industry capacity migrated over the Mexican border where there are [fewer environmental regulations]. The remainder of production capacity will be online and running by the third quarter of 2014. There has been no production disruption to speak of in obtaining lead or lead products. The auto battery industry among others has prepared for this eventuality for some time. The last lead smelter closing in December did not have enough capacity to supply even 10% of the battery industry much less the ammunition industry. The lead being used in ammunition today hasn’t been coming from the United States for years. The closing of [the Doe Run] plant will not have any appreciable effect on lead availability at all. There is a great deal of lead processed here being extruded, made into shot, converted to wire, etc., but the smelting operation is only one part of the production process.” (Burneyr 2013) (Adams 2013)
So if we examine the facts of the issue; the availability of ore and the methods taken by the United States to process it into ammunition, there will likely be little factual impact to ammunition’s availability. With most of US lead production already utilizing overseas smelting sources; the cost of the closure of the Doe Run facility is marginal at best. Indeed the only actual price impact will come from panicked buyers heeding pundits like Mr. West and others on the Internet who are relying on conspiracies and conjecture to agitate the sheep into thinking somehow this last bastion of lead smelting will singlehandedly open the door for alternate government gun control measures.
In the end it took me little effort to research this and bring in a variety of sources. It is my own way of attempting to push back on some of the political and individual hysteria that has gripped the issue since November. Personally, I live less than 20 miles from Doe Run and as an ammunition reloader I am well aware of the issue and impacts. Also local news venues have covered the issue extensively and highlighted the predominant issue is the EPA regulations on the Coal Industry, not ammunition. So hopefully this will prove illuminating to many of you who see the closure of the Doe Run smelting as somehow a crippling, back-door gun control measure preceding mandatory gun registration and more because people like Allen West and outlets like Brietbart told you so. Indeed the only real victims here are the former employees that lost their jobs. So breathe people…breathe…
Adams, Becket. Rumor Check: Did Obama Close a Lead Plant in Order to Enact ‘Backdoor’ Gun Control? December 2, 2013. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/12/02/rumor-check-did-obama-close-a-lead-plant-in-order-to-enact-backdoor-gun-control/ (accessed December 2, 2013).
BaseMetals. Lead Analysis and Forecast Q4 2013. 2013. http://www.fastmarkets.com/base-metals/lead-analysis-forecast-q4-2013 (accessed December 2, 2013).
Burneyr. To the Ticks that Keep Hoarding .22LR… November 1, 2013. http://forum.snipershide.com/snipers-hide-rimfire-section/218086-tick-turds-keep-hoarding-22-lr-stores-i-will-laughing-hard.html (accessed December 1, 2013).
Sierra: The Bulletsmiths. Sierra Responds: How Will the Closure of the Lead Smelting Plant Affect Sierra Bullets? November 1, 2013. http://sierrabullets.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/sierra-responds-how-will-the-closure-of-the-lead-smelting-plant-affect-sierra-bullets/ (accessed December 1, 2013).
The Doe Run Company. News Releases: Herculaneum Smelter Update. November 28, 2013. http://www.doerun.com/MediaCenter/NewsReleases/Article/Herculaneum-Smelter-Update.aspx (accessed December 2, 2013).
Welton, Scott. Jason Smith: War on coal is war on Missouri. November 7, 2013. http://www.semissourian.com/story/2021664.html (accessed December 2, 2013).
West, Allen. Backdoor gun control is here: no lead means no bullets Read more at http://allenbwest.com/2013/12/backdoor-gun-control-lead-means-bullets/#fyqrKAQERyiCytpU.99. December 1, 2013. http://allenbwest.com/2013/12/backdoor-gun-control-lead-means-bullets/ (accessed December 2, 2013).