Sinkhole 8-feet in diameter opens in Picher

Tuesday, November 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) _ Another sinkhole _ one of the lasting effects of decades of lead mining in northeast Oklahoma _ has opened up in this Ottawa County town.

The sinkhole was discovered Sunday just off U.S. 69 south of Picher's downtown.

``It's about 8 feet in diameter now,'' said Picher resident John Sparkman, who found the sinkhole. ``It gets wider as it goes deeper, but we really can't see down to the bottom because it kind of choked itself off.

``It'll get bigger.''

More than 75 million tons of chat tower in mountainous piles in Ottawa County. While some of it is contaminated with elevated levels of lead, it can be used in asphalt for road construction.

Children living in the 40-square-mile former lead and zinc mining corner of northeast Oklahoma have shown dangerous lead levels in their blood. The Environmental Protection Agency began scraping away contaminated soil from yards on an emergency basis in 1995.

Last year, a task force appointed by Gov. Frank Keating suggested turning the region into a vast wetlands as a catchall solution to lead contamination, open mine shafts and cave-in threats.

The EPA has spent more than $80 million trying to clean up the Tar Creek Superfund area since the 1980s.

Sinkholes may be the most immediate danger.

In the late 1970s, a motorist died after driving past barricades and into a sinkhole that had taken out a portion of a downtown street. In 1967, another sinkhole swallowed up several Picher homes. No one was injured.

According to reports, there more than 200 sinkholes throughout Ottawa County and more than 50 of those are 95 feet in diameter or larger.

Some sinkholes widen until they fill with rainwater and resemble large ponds.

Sparkman said the latest sinkhole will be dealt with as soon as residents know how serious the collapse is.

``The property owners are going to fence it off,'' he said. ``But there's nothing you can do until you know what it's going to do.''