Missouri Activists' Long Battle for Clean Water Pays Off
Talk about staying power! Twenty-seven years after Sierra Club activists Angel & Tom Kruzen started fighting the expansion of lead mining into the Scenic River watersheds of the Missouri Ozarks—specifically the Jacks Fork, Current, and Eleven Point Rivers—the EPA announced on October 8 that Doe Run, the country's largest lead producer, will pay $65 million to correct environmental violations at ten of its lead mining, milling, and smelting facilities in Missouri.
The company has also decided to close its lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo., by the end of 2013 rather than try to bring the facility into compliance with environmental regulations. Below, dead fish and maggots float in Joachim Creek, which runs by the Herculaneum smelter.
"It's great news that the Herculaneum smelter will close, and gratifying to see this kind of settlement," Tom says. "But ten times that much money would still be inadequate, considering people have died or suffered irreversible health consequences due to Doe Run's carelessness. This isn't about the money; it's about the company's sloppiness catching up to them."
"They're finally being exposed," says Angel, leader of Missouri's Water Sentinels Program. Below, silver bubbles indicate heavy metal in mine tailings at Doe Run's Fletcher mine in Bunker, Mo.
Missouri produces nearly three-quarters of the country's lead, most of it from the so-called Lead Belt in the southeastern part of the state. "For more than a century, families in Missouri's lead districts have endured one of the most harmful forms of air and water pollution," says EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks. "Lead's toll on their lives and health has been great, which is why the outcome of this enforcement action is so important."
Air and water pollution from the Herculaneum smelter has been poisoning residents for over a century. In recent years, Doe Run has regularly had to dig up and replace peoples' entire yards to get rid of particulate matter from the smelter that regularly blankets the town. Dust on Herculaneum streets, below, has been found to contain 300,000 parts per million of lead.
Over the years, Audubon, the New York Times, 60 Minutes II, Vanity Fair, Bill Moyers Now, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, Mother Jones, the Nation, and many other media outlets have all run stories on lead mining and smelting in Missouri and its detrimental effects.
In 1992, the Kruzen's photographs helped secure funding for testing equipment for the newly created Missouri Stream Team program, and today some 5,000 volunteer teams have adopted a stream which they regularly monitor and then turn the data over to the appropriate state agencies. Tom also created the Ozark Riverkeepers Network, and Angel was hired as one of the Sierra Club's original Water Sentinels in 2001.
"It's taken awhile, but we've turned local attitudes around," says Angel. "The Sierra Club can be a four-letter word in these parts. When we first started opposing Doe Run, people would call us up and shoot guns off in the background. Once a dead cat was sent to our P.O. Box. But it didn't take too long before formerly healthy employees in these communities started getting deathly ill. Nowadays when somebody has a problem with Doe Run, they call us."
Below, toxic trash at Doe Run's Mine and Mill #28.
During the formation of the Jacks Fork stakeholder group, the EPA insisted that there be environmental representation. "The locals said they weren't going to put up with any damned environmentalists," says national Water Sentinels Director Scott Dye. "Angel said, 'I'm the environmentalist, representing the Sierra Club.' To which the locals responded, 'Well, that's OK, because Angel's one of us.'"
And now, largely as a result of the Kruzens persistence, their courage in an often hostile environment, and their ability to win the trust of local residents, one of the heartland's biggest polluters will cease operating. "We never gave up," Tom says. "Now Doe Run is on the run, and they haven't expanded mining into the scenic rivers. It was our relentless pursuit of them over the years that did it. Never say never."
The Kruzens have also taken their battle to La Oroya, Peru, where a Doe Run smelter operated until 2009. La Oroya was named by the Blacksmith Institute as the most polluted town in the Western Hemisphere. "We met with nurses and others from La Oroya," Tom says. "We told them about the Water Sentinels Program, showed them testing kits from the Missouri Stream Team, and when they got back home they secured funding from the Archbishop to start a Stream Team/Water Sentinels program there."
For their nearly three-decade effort, the Kruzens were honored with a 2010 Hellbender Award from Heartwood, an Indiana-based regional network that protects forests and supports community activism in 18 eastern states, with a special focus on the remaining hardwood forests of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. The Hellbender, a giant salamander native to North America, can reach 29 inches in length and weigh over 5 pounds.
Also see this post on the Activist Network Water Sentinels blog.