EPA: Lead Levels Falling, But Still Much To Do At Tar Creek Superfund
OTTAWA COUNTY, Oklahoma - The Environmental Protection Agency is celebrating a milestone in the cleanup at the tar creek superfund site in Ottawa County.
Towns once near the old mining sites are now ghost towns, but the agency said lead levels have fallen in children who live in the area, and are now at acceptable levels.
EPA officials said the Tar Creek Superfund Site is still one of the largest cleanup efforts in the country. Chat piles still overlook the town of Picher, and EPA officials said there's still much work to do.
For years, the EPA has spent millions trying to cleanup several towns affected by years of lead and zinc mining.
Large chat piles still tower over the abandoned mining towns and deserted lots.
"There has been some controversy in the past, but they are going down," said Gary Linderman with Old Miners Pharmacy.
The Picher pharmacist keeps his doors open to the community, but most of the residents moved out after the government bought out their property.
The EPA said it's not going away anytime soon and is far from done with the cleanup.
“You know ten years ago we were close to saying something like that, we didn't realize we had a huge health problem, so I hesitate to predict how long it will take. I think the important thing is it will be done and we are making progress,” said EPA Superfund Director, Carl Edlund.
At one point the EPA found 35 percent of the children in the area had elevated levels of lead in their blood stream.
“We understood it wasn't just the 40 square mile superfund site, but it was all over Ottawa County," Edlund said.
He feels the agency has reached a point where the human health impacts are under control and he wanted to thank the local agencies and tribes for their help.
"We have a lot of work left, but I think it's important to mark where you have some steps forward, at least the human health aspect is under control from this problem," Edlund said.
The Quapaw Tribe stepped in a year ago and took over some of the removal of the hazardous chat piles and restoration efforts.
Linderman said Picher is on its way to bouncing back.
"There's always hope, it's just to have to take some time," he said.
As the chat piles decrease in size, the focus will now go on to the watershed.
That area of Tar Creek will be one of the highlighted areas trying to make sure the contaminated water is not flowing in anymore rivers and streams.