lead smelting | KBIA

lead smelting

Fencing surrounds a patch of grass that used to be a neighborhood in the center of Herculaneum, Missouri. A sign in the grass reads, "No Trespassing. Lead Contamination."
Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

Bill Haggard is the mayor of Herculaneum, Missouri, a town of 4,000 about a 30 minute drive south of St. Louis. He’s also the fire chief, president of the historical society and a retired teacher, among other distinctions, although he identifies first as a “lifelong resident.”

For more than a century this town was built up around the lead smelter that sat along the Mississippi River. Today, though, most of the houses remaining in the hollowed out center of town are marked in spray paint with a bright orange ‘X.’

“If they have an ‘X’ on them they’re coming down,” Haggard says while driving by houses slated for demolition.