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Mining company ordered to clean up lead contamination in St. Francois County

Lead blocks produced by the Doe Run Company.
The Doe Run Company

In a settlement announced Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Missouri ordered metal and mining company Doe Run Resources Corporation to clean up lead contamination in more than 4,000 residential properties in St. Francois County.

The work is estimated to cost a total of $111 million. Of that, the Environmental Protection Agency will contribute about $31 million. The company will remove lead contamination in the Big River Mine Tailings Superfund Site, an area added to the EPA's National Priorities List in 1992. It's part of Missouri's "Old Lead Belt," one of the largest lead mining districts in the world.

Doe Run and its predecessors mined in the area in the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving behind large piles of waste, called mine tailings, that exposed surrounding communities to hazardous heavy metals. 

Federal and state officials and companies responsible for the site have remediated more than 1,200 residential yards at this time have been cleaned up. Under the settlement, Doe Run will assist with the ongoing work to sample and excavate properties that have lead concentrations that exceed 400 parts per million. 

"Although numerous mining operations existed in the area, we are the last major operator in Missouri," said Mark Yingling, vice president of environment, health and safety for Doe Run, in a statement. "Doe Run is committed to assisting regulators to address non-naturally occurring sources of lead in residential soils where Doe Run had historic operations."

In three zip codes that the Superfund site covers, as much as 16.7 percent of the children who live in them have elevated lead levels. 

"Protecting our communities from the toxic effects of lead is one of Administrator Pruitt's top priorities," said Jim Gulliford, administrator of EPA Region 7, which oversees Missouri. "I am pleased that this agreement will result in the cleanup of more than 4,000 residential properties, helping to protect the residents of St. Francois County." 

Federal officials will take public comments on the consent decree for 30 days. St. Francois Count is about 70 miles south of St. Louis. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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