The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Doe Run Co. to clean up a mine tailings site in Leadwood, saying negotiations failed to produce a settlement.
Contaminated mine waste known as tailings or chat has been migrating for years from the 560-acre site in eastern Missouri's Old Lead Belt via wind and storm-water runoff. Most of the site is owned by St. Louis-based Doe Run.
As a result, nearby residential properties are contaminated with zinc and lead, the EPA said.
The agency said that Doe Run has been ordered to stabilize the mine waste within two years of EPA's approving its work plan.
EPA said it issued the order when a settlement could not be reached.
Lead exposure can cause irreparable damage to the brain and central nervous system. The EPA said the action was being taken to protect public health.
For every 100 pounds of rock mined, only 5 percent or so is sold as lead, copper, zinc or silver. The rest becomes tailings - for "tail end" of the process - and contains trace, but toxic, amounts of heavy metals.
In the Old Lead Belt, mining companies heaped the tailings in mammoth piles that hover over the towns of Park Hills, Bonne Terre, Desloge, Leadington and Leadwood. Rain and wind erode the piles, dusting the towns' yards and homes.
Doe Run spokeswoman Barb Shepard said the waste was generated years ago before the advent of new technology, but that the company is "committed to stabilizing" the Leadwood Mine Tailings site.
"We want to provide peace of mind to the community and its residents," she said. "We're going to cooperate with the EPA on this."
She said the two sides couldn't agree on technical issues, but that everyone was in agreement the piles should be stabilized.
Doe Run has worked with EPA and other Old Lead Belt communities to stabilize other piles.
Doe Run and its predecessor companies have been around since the late 1800s. It's the only one of many companies that mined the Old Lead Belt that survives.
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