Your money or your life? Missouri town had to choose

On KBIA public radio, Jacob Fenston tells the story of a Missouri town faced with a brutal, impossibly high-stakes catch-22. For decades, thanks to pervasive pollution, the Doe Run lead smelter was slowly destroying Herculaneum physically. At the same time, that lead plant, the continent’s largest, was the only thing keeping Herculaneum afloat economically. Residents had to choose: fight the polluter and take their own livelihoods down in the process, or live with the pervasive, toxic lead dust and its consequences.

After a decades-long showdown that divided and exhausted the town, government regulators and angry parents have finally won: the smelter will shut down at the end of next year. Unfortunately, the town may not last much longer because, as Fenston writes, “Without Doe Run, the schools will be short $500,000 in revenue, and the water and sewer district will lose one quarter of its budget.”

The battle’s too long and nuanced to summarize here, but I highly recommend reading Fenston’s full report on everything from the 30-year slow-motion regulatory showdown to the town’s unlikely rebirth as an affordable St. Louis bedroom community.

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