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Committee wants to use chat as fill in sinkholes

MIAMI, Okla. (AP) -- Members of a subcommittee advising Gov. Frank Keating's Tar Creek Superund Task Force say millions of tons of mine waste could be used to fill in large sinkholes caused by abandoned mine shafts.

Mountains of mine waste, or chat, surround the towns of Picher, Cardin, Quapaw, Commerce and North Miami.

The subcommittee is calling for further research on how to use 55 million tons of chat in Ottawa County. Using it to fill in sinkholes is one option, members said.

"We hope the recommendation will stimulate more discussion about the use of chat," said co-chairman Ed Keheley. "There are a lot of different opinions. It's about a 50-50 split on whether or not to use it."

Environmental officials have been concerned that using chat permeated with lead and zinc could lead to more acidic runoff into nearby water supplies.

Keheley said that the Environmental Protection Agency did not agree with the subcommittee's findings on chat.

The EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality are removing lead-contaminated soil from 1,300 residential yards and drainage ditches. Lead and zinc was mined for about 100 years in a 40-square-mile area within the Superfund site. Exposure to excessive lead levels is considered harmful, especially to children.

A large sinkhole damaging a Kansas-Oklahoma state line road is raising concerns in the area.

County Commissioner Joe Crawford said a representative of Williams Gas Co. said if the hole subsides and a natural gas line ignites "it will level the city of Baxter Springs."

The sinking road, which has visible cracks and a dip, is a school bus route for two districts. The hole is also an illegal dumping ground for unwanted junk.

"We are going on record asking EPA to look into this," Secretary of Environment Brian Griffen told the task force on Thursday.

Brian Monker, an EPA representative, volunteered to approach the EPA with the emergency concerns.
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