MAC: Mines and Communities

Suit says Doe Run tainted area near lead mine

Published by MAC on 2006-06-28

Suit says Doe Run tainted area near lead mine


28th June 2006

Lead-mining giant Doe Run Co. has been criticized by environmentalists for lead pollution from mines and industrial facilities on two continents. Now the company has a new sort of foe: a savvy Missouri landowner who has the concerns of an environmentalist.

The landowner, Leo Drey, has done business for decades with lead companies and the forestry industry in Missouri. Yet, Drey and his wife, Kay Drey, also have turned their wealth as owners of Missouri forestlands into a force for an array of environmental causes.

On Friday, Nadist LLC, a company controlled by Leo Drey, filed a lawsuit in federal court in St. Louis claiming that Doe Run has contaminated Nadist land near a lead mine in southern Missouri with toxic metals. The facility is the Sweetwater Mine and Mill in Reynolds County.

Nadist claims that Missouri Department of Natural Resources testing of soil found high levels of lead and other toxic heavy metals on Doe Run property and in local creeks. It also claims Nadist's own testing found lead contamination on Nadist property.

Nadist also says Doe Run has operated without permits required by state and federal law.

What's more, Nadist suggests that Doe Run has created the potential for an environmental disaster. The suit says Doe Run has for 30 years operated a dam that initially was intended for use only five years. The dam is holding back a large waste pond, and its failure "would release a toxic stew that would likely cover thousands of acres with a poisonous sheen," the suit says.

The suit says the problems are "consistent with Doe Run's environmental mismanagement," ranging from a lead smelter in Herculaneum to another smelter in Peru, where authorities have said 99.9 percent of children up to age 6 have high levels of lead in their blood.

Doe Run spokeswoman Barb Shepard noted that the area is an operating mine site, which the company acquired after it bought another business in 1998.

"We have not received any notices of violation, which is what you would expect if it was an issue," she said.

As for Nadist's claims that state testing found lead in concentrations as high as 60,000 parts per million on Nadist property, she said, "I don't know if that's accurate."

She also rebuffed Nadist's claims about the dam. "All of our properties and dams are permitted and inspected," she said.

The suit, which claims Doe Run has violated federal environmental laws, seeks unspecified monetary penalties as well as a court order requiring Doe Run to remedy the damage to Nadist's property.

It is not the first time Drey has tangled with a mining company in court. In the 1980s, Drey sued Kennecott Copper, which at the time owned Ozark Lead, over a lease dispute, said Hugh Law, an attorney for Nadist. The outcome was that Blair Creek in Shannon County was removed from the lease, and the land was later protected, Law said.

"Mr. Drey believes that good environmental practices are good business," Law said.

In their environmental endeavors, the Dreys have created a foundation that holds 137,000 acres of land and supports an array of educational and environmental programs, Law said. They also gave land and easements along banks of the Jack's Fork and Current rivers to the National Park Service, which preserves them for public enjoyment.

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