Cleanup continues in Tar Creek area

Monday, September 27th 2004, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

COMMERCE, Okla. (AP) _ City officials are planning to finish yard remediation work on the final 205 sites in the Tar Creek Superfund area where federal officials are recommending removal of lead-contaminated soil.

The work also includes sites in Picher, Quapaw, North Miami and Cardin, all northeastern Oklahoma communities within the Tar Creek Superfund site.

``We are the ones that have to live with the results (of remediation work),'' Commerce Public Works Director Joe Crawford said. ``If we have to live with the end results, we ought to be part of it.''

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent about $95 million removing lead-contaminated soil from more than 2,000 residential yards in the Tar Creek site, a 43-square-mile former mining district which was placed atop the national priority list for cleanup in 1983.

EPA officials credit the yard remediations for reducing high childhood blood lead levels in the Superfund site. Today, about 12 percent of children six years old and younger have blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per milliliter as compared to 38 percent in the early 1990s.

Small children are more susceptible to learning and neurological problems associated with the absorption of lead into body organs.

The EPA effort has required government contractors to remove up to 18 inches of contaminated soil, replace it with clean soil and then cover it with sod. The effort has been widely criticized for creating drainage problems.

EPA officials say 150 residents have filed claims for damage, but that no new claims have been filed since 1998. Many of the claims filed six years ago remain unresolved.

Mike McAteer, the EPA's project manager for Tar Creek, said the remaining yards would be remediated according to the same specifications.

McAteer was among federal and state officials who met with Tar Creek mayors earlier this month to discuss whether there was an interest among leaders of local municipalities for involvement in the remaining yard remediations.

``This is really in the discussion phase,'' McAteer said. ``We're looking to get a feel for how the cities feel about it. We're trying to get an idea whether they would be interested at all.''

The Picher City Council voted unanimously last week to reject any attempt to have city workers involved in the remediations that will take place in Picher.

``I hardly know anyone who has been satisfied with the remediation work,'' Picher Mayor Sam Freeman said. ``I just don't think it's something we want to get involved in.''

Quapaw Mayor Neil Watson said he would take the proposal to the town board of trustees, but that he didn't think his town had the resources to perform the necessary work.

``With the small number of properties we have and the work we already have scheduled on other city projects, I just don't think we'll get involved,'' he said.

Crawford, the Commerce public works director, said that could give his city an opportunity to do all the remaining yard remediation work in the Superfund site.