Old American Zinc Plant
Operating at peak capacity 1913-1953 and abandoned in 1967, the American Zinc plant in Fairmont City, Illinois smelted the element that galvanized the world. In the early 20th century, science and industry escalated their war on rust, and facilities like American Zinc led the charge against corrosion. On their 132-acre site northeast of East St. Louis—itself a center of Superfun!—the plant churned out the raw material that kept Americans’ cars, street lights, and bridges looking shiny and new until people grew tired of them and bought or built something more fun. In 1918, the heroes of management at American Zinc doubled down on their mission to safeguard American fun when they opted to homogenize their workforce (and break a strike) by importing labor from a Mexican community—which not only neutralized labor union activity (fun!) but also inadvertently and quite wonderfully (we’re serious) created an enduring Latino enclave that has long outlived the plant’s production.
After closing the Fairmont City location, American Zinc moved down the road and into Sauget, Illinois (also a Superfun! epicenter), and abandoned its pile of accumulated slag to sit idle and picturesque. In 1976, new owners began a fun experiment—to excavate the the lead-laden mound to use as construction fill at sites across the region. This entrepreneurial spirit generated loads of capital fun, along with loads of community requests for environmental assessments. After 18 years, the federal government promptly responded. Today, Multiple Parties Which Are Probably Responsible (MPWPR)—who include the delightfully named Blue Tee Corp.—have teamed up to replace residential yards in the neighboring communities, and to excavate, consolidate, and bury whatever lead, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc they can find. Moving forward, the future of the Old American Zinc Plant looks bright, as the MPWPRs have promised to ensure the site remains zoned for exclusive industrial use in perpetuity, which should safeguard acceptable levels of Superfun! for generations to come.