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Cherokee County Galena Subsite (OU5) Case Study

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Photo of Cherokee site.
Source: Kansas Geological Survey
Before: Impaired streambeds due to mining activity.
Photo of flower in grass.

Source: USFWS
After: Native vegetation has been restored at site.

  • Soil and groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds, chloroform, freon, vinyl chloride, arsenic, cadmium and lead.
  • Diverted stream channels from waste piles
  • Buried mine wastes away from surface water bodies
  • Relocated 2.1 million cubic yards of contaminated mine wastes
  • Recontoured and revegetated surfaces to control runoff and erosion
  • Cleaned up 900 acres of surface mine wastes
  • U.S. EPA
  • Kansas Department of Health and the Environment
  • Kansas Biological Survey
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • U.S. Bureau of Mines
  • 20 jobs during cleanup and redevelopment
  • $485,600 in annual income resulting from short-term cleanup and redevelopment jobs
  • Improved appeal of Galena as a residential community for workers commuting to Joplin, Missourie
  • Increased potential to attract new light industry to Galena
  • Reduced health risks from heavy metals in drinking water
  • Improved ecosystem health
  • Improved protection of drinking water sources
  • Made portions of land available for light industrial development and grazing
  • Created wildlife habitat
Last Updated February 2000

Cherokee County
Cherokee County, Kansas

Land and water contaminated from a century of lead and zinc mining

Safe habitat for wildlife and native vegetation and potential for light industrial use and grazing

Improved aesthetics, ecosystem health, and decreased public health risks

In extreme southeastern Kansas, over a century of intensive lead and zinc mining left the land devastated. Open mine shafts, pits and large piles of mine waste dotted a landscape stripped of vegetation and wildlife. There was even mine waste in residents' backyards. Both the surface water and groundwater were highly acidic and contaminated by heavy metals. One area looked so bleak, residents called it "Hell"s Half-Acre." Cooperation among federal, state, and local officials facilitated cleanup and the restoration of the 25-square mile Cherokee County Superfund Site, Galena Subsite to a healthy habitat for plants and animals. What follows is the story of how EPA worked with other federal agencies, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), and the local community to renew the health of this site, resulting in positive economic impacts, and environmental and social benefits.

Site Snapshot

From the mid-1800s to the early 1970s, mining in the Cherokee County area produced several million tons of mining wastes, destroying native vegetation and wildlife and presenting serious human health risks. The barren countryside was covered with mounds of gray rocks, gravel, and mine waste, and pockmarked by open mine shafts, pits, and craters filled with murky, highly contaminated water. The Galena Subsite (OU5) covers 25 square miles of the 115-square mile Cherokee County Superfund site near the town of Galena, Kansas. The site is surrounded by homes, businesses, light industries, farms, and grazing lands. Mining wastes have affected the quality of the soil, surface water and groundwater. Threats to drinking water and toxic metals found in private wells greatly concerned Galena residents.

From a Gray Landscape...

In 1981, a University of Kansas School of Medicine study reported an unusually high incidence of elevated levels of lead in children residing within Cherokee and Jasper counties. This study showed that substantial environmental health risks threatened the local population. EPA found that mining wastes contaminated the land, groundwater, and streams near the town of Galena. In July 1983, EPA added the entire Cherokee County site to its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup.

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began site cleanup in 1993. Cleanup activities included burial of contaminated surface mine wastes in abandoned mine pits, subsidence areas, and mine shafts on the site, diversion of streams away from waste piles, recontouring of the land surface, and revegetation of the area with a specially selected mix of native prairie grasses to control runoff and erosion. Over two million cubic yards of contaminated mine wastes were relocated and 900 acres of surface mine wastes were cleaned up.

...To Grassland

By 1994, cleanup work was complete and native prairie grasses were well established. These grasses stabilized the soils, revegetated the area, and encouraged the return of wildlife. Today, the site is covered with acres of tall, waving grass harboring birds and small mammals. Future uses of the Galena Subsite may include light industrial development and grazing. Portions of the site are likely to remain open space because their future development is limited by the hazards associated with potential caving-in of filled mine shafts or development of collapses after substantial rains or repeated freezing and thawing.

Community Benefits

Cleanup reduced the health risks from contamination for over 4,500 persons in the Galena area, and improved the appearance of the local countryside. City officials are delighted with the improvements and have developed a tax incentives program to help attract new light industry. Community support for the cleanup effort is strong. Preliminary results from the Kansas Biological Survey's study of the site show improvement in environmental health.

Keys to Success

Collaboration with the State of Kansas and the KDHE was a key factor in EPA's successful implementation of a remedy to mitigate the contamination. The assistance of federal partners was instrumental in the design and execution of the cleanup, and analysis of the health and environmental threats. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed the health effects of the contamination, and the U.S. Bureau of Mines helped the other agencies locate and plan remediation of the mine shafts, pits, and unstable areas.

For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the Cherokee site, contact:

David Drake
U.S. EPA Region 7
901 North Fifth Street
Kansas City, KS 66101
(913) 551-7626