Anyone who has been in the mining industry for any length of time has seen years like 2015, in which market prices declined, and we at The Doe Run Company (Doe Run) had to adjust to changing conditions while continuing to meet our obligations and providing valuable minerals to the world.
Looking back on 2015, the individual and collective efforts of our employees stand out more than any other single accomplishment. The effort of our workforce enabled us to operate soundly even as major mining companies around the globe struggled. Despite market pricing that was 20% less than analysts predicted for our industry, Doe Run persevered and made tremendous progress toward meeting its commitments.
In 2015, Doe Run spent $63 million on environmental and remediation projects, including work to remediate a portion of the Herculaneum property to make way for a new river port owned and operated by Riverview Commerce Park LLC; the construction of a new $13.2 million water treatment plant at Buick Mine and Mill; installation of energy-saving geothermal heating and cooling equipment; and adding another mine location to our list of ISO 14001:2004 certified operations. These activities, among others, represent further fulfillment of commitments made to mitigate environmental impacts, improve operations and assist local communities as we first outlined in our 2010 Sustainability Report.
“Our industry’s model of recycling and reusing lead metal over and over again is something other metals aspire toward.”
Mining and metal production are vital to the health of the U.S., global economies and modern society. Doe Run is committed to promoting environmental compliance and stewardship throughout the organization. In 2015, company employees received more than 22,237 training hours on subjects, including the environment and workplace safety. The company also tracked and completed more than 25,000 environmental, health and safety tasks through its Enterprise Task Management System (ETMS). Read more about our environmental commitments or browse our data tables.
Workplace safety is our highest value, and our subsidiary Fabricated Products Inc. (FPI) reached 1.5 million hours without a lost time accident in 2015 and achieved a perfect safety record for 16 years. While we celebrate these safety achievements, we also mourn when accidents impact our team. In January 2015, Doe Run’s mining operations tragically experienced a fatality at one of our mines and we lost a trusted and highly respected coworker and friend. We worked with federal authorities to understand what caused this accident and to ensure all precautions for safety are taken to best protect our employees.
One precaution we focus upon is reducing employee exposure to lead. In 2014, lead manufacturing and mining companies across the industry introduced voluntary targets to reduce workforce lead exposure. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employees of lead industry companies be removed and reassigned from their jobs if their blood-lead levels exceed 50 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) on a six-month average. Doe Run voluntarily reassigns employees if they reach blood-lead levels of 30 µg/dL.1
Doe Run has taken a protective approach by proactively monitoring employees’ blood-lead levels on a monthly basis versus a quarterly or annual basis if they exceed our threshold. Our target for 2015 was to reduce the number of employees at each location who surpassed the threshold of 19 μg/dL. We achieved that target at our Southeast Missouri Mining and Milling (SEMO) Division and FPI, but missed our target at our Resource Recycling and Herculaneum operations. Read more about our progress.
In 2015, global demand for lead grew at a lower level than anticipated as China’s economic growth slowed. The result was lower prices for base metal commodities, including lead. Doe Run adjusted to the cooling global economy by postponing non-essential projects, reducing overtime where possible and, unfortunately, by reducing our workforce. These decisions, though difficult, enabled the company to manage through a challenging time without some of the more drastic measures taken by other companies in the industry.
Despite the lower commodity pricing, the long-term outlook for lead, copper and zinc is promising. Since the closure of the Doe Run primary smelter in 2013, the company has diversified its customer portfolio in the global market and has settled into its new business model as a global leader in exported lead concentrates. The change to the company’s business model also impacted company spending with Missouri vendors as materials related to primary metal production were no longer required. The smelter closure also impacted U.S. metal imports and in 2015, the U.S. imported record levels of lead metal. The majority of lead imports are utilized in motive and stationary batteries, and advances in battery technologies provide a promising outlook for lead-based batteries for use in hybrid electric cars and renewable energy storage. Both markets are expected to experience strong growth. So, although lower metal prices may prevail for a longer period, we believe recovery of metal prices will take place in late 2016. With the measures we have put into place, we are well-poised for a market recovery.
The Reputation of Lead
As a member of several trade associations, Doe Run is a staunch advocate for open communication with stakeholders and for greater understanding on how to use and reuse lead in a safe manner. Most people do not realize that lead-based batteries start nearly one billion vehicles every day. A day without lead would mean a day without modern transportation, without medical radiation therapies, without security screening and much more. Improved communication efforts on the value of lead and greater education on the proper handling of lead are necessary to build a better understanding among the public and policymakers.
As the largest lead mining company in the U.S., Doe Run has taken an active role in working alongside state and federal government to help legislators learn more about our industry. In April 2015, Doe Run employees hosted a “Doe Run Day” at the Missouri State Capitol building. Employees staffed tables with information on Missouri minerals, battery recycling, mining and remediation, and visited each state legislator’s office to share information on our industry. The event successfully opened dialogue about the important role mining plays for Missouri’s economy, and the company intends to repeat the effort every couple of years.
At the federal level, Doe Run was invited by the U.S. Office of Accountability to respond to its Critical Materials Supply Survey regarding U.S. access to critical materials that may have a strong value to our economy and national security. Doe Run responded by explaining the importance of lead metal to the U.S. economy and to U.S. domestic and international security. For example, lead is used to start all motive vehicles, provide emergency power for mission-critical equipment, and for medical and military applications, all of which directly support our nation’s defense.
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These are challenging times as we strive to earn and retain the trust of our stakeholders, adjust to changing regulations and political influences, and work to use fewer resources to return greater value. We must continue to challenge ourselves and our industry through education and collaboration, so that all mining companies across the globe are using best practices to improve recoveries, provide economic vitality and reduce impacts.
Jerry L. Pyatt
President and Chief Executive Officer
1 Blood-lead levels are the trace amount of lead the body absorbs through exposure.