Sierra Bullets On The Shutdown Of The Herculaneum MO Lead Smelter

As has been reported in many places, the Doe Run Company will be closing their lead smelting plant in Herculaneum, Missouri. The closure of the only primary lead smelter or a smelting plant that produces lead from lead ore is due to the EPA’s ten-fold increase in air standards for lead.

The NRA-ILA provided a quick summary:

In December, the final primary lead smelter in the United States will close. The lead smelter, located in Herculaneum, Missouri, and owned and operated by the Doe Run Company, has existed in the same location since 1892.

The Herculaneum smelter is currently the only smelter in the United States which can produce lead bullion from raw lead ore that is mined nearby in Missouri’s extensive lead deposits, giving the smelter its “primary” designation. The lead bullion produced in Herculaneum is then sold to lead product producers, including ammunition manufactures for use in conventional ammunition components such as projectiles, projectile cores, and primers. Several “secondary” smelters, where lead is recycled from products such as lead acid batteries or spent ammunition components, still operate in the United States.

Doe Run made significant efforts to reduce lead emissions from the smelter, but in 2008 the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued new National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead that were 10 times tighter than the previous standard. Given the new lead air quality standard, Doe Run made the decision to close the Herculaneum smelter.

Most ammunition uses lead as one of its primary components whether in bullets or lead shot. The question is whether they use recycled lead or lead that comes directly from ore.

Sierra Bullets of Sedalia, Missouri is the first bullet manufacturer that I know of that has addressed the question of whether the plant closure will shut down their supply of lead. The answer is a qualified no.

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.

If you read their answer closely, they are saying their source of lead seems to be secure. However, the demand for recycled lead will undoubtedly begin to rise as battery manufacturers may increase their consumption of recycled lead. The increase in hybrid and electric cars will also increase the demand for lead-acid batteries.

Ammo prices have risen with demand and I expect they will continue to rise from both ammo demand and demand for the raw materials such as lead. Where it will end, I just don’t know.