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Tar Creek
Ottawa County, Oklahoma

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Printable Version (PDF) (1 pg, 45K)

Site Description

The Tar Creek site is a 40-square mile former lead and zinc mining area. Located in northeastern Oklahoma, the site is part of an area known as the Tri-State Mining District. This 2,500-square-mile area in parts of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma ranks as one of the world's largest producers of lead and zinc. The Tar Creek site consists of five mining cities, Picher, Cardin, Quapaw, Commerce and North Miami as well as other areas within Ottawa County. Much of the land on the site is allotted Indian Land.

Mining waste piles known as "chat" are located throughout the communities, including residential areas. The chat contains heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, and zinc. A percentage of young children living in the five-city mining area are known to have blood lead levels that exceed the standard set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels remains well above State and national averages.

Current Site Status and Cleanup Actions to Date

  • In February 2008, EPA selected the final cleanup plan for the site. It includes several parts: funding for the voluntary relocation of residents and businesses (through Oklahoma's Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust [LICRAT]); chat sales; disposal of source materials; and stream restoration.
  • Plans are underway to examine the injection of washed chat fines directly into mine caverns and eliminating sediment/holding ponds.
  • Chat sales at the St. Joe Pile are ongoing. EPA is working with the Quapaw Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help facilitate the sale of Indian-owned chat.
  • The voluntary buyout that is being implemented by LICRAT also is ongoing. To date, several hundred residential properties have been vacated.

Current Funding Status

  • In Fiscal Year 2008, EPA obligated approximately $14.5 million for residential buyouts and relocations, with $5 million provided on an expedited basis after the May 2008 tornado.
  • To date, EPA has obligated a total of nearly $101.9 million for cleanup activities at this site.

For more information on this site, please read the Tar Creek site fact sheet (PDF) (4 pp, 81K, http://www.epa.gov/earth1r6/6sf/pdffiles/0601269.pdf) on the Region 6 Superfund web site.

Key Accomplishments

  • Completed three chat disposal pilot projects when approximately 34,600 tons of chat was injected into underground mine caverns and an additional 40,000 tons of mine waste were contained in an innovative trench/road system
  • Finalization of an EPA rule establishing environmentally protective criteria for the use of chat in transportation projects in 2007
  • As a result of a devastating tornado in May 2008, EPA provided $5 million in federal funding to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to expedite the buyout and relocation of residents of Picher, OK


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