STUDY says E. coli, lead, fecal bacteria polluting Grand Lake

Saturday, July 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GROVE, Okla. (AP) _ A new study says fecal bacteria, E. coli and tons of lead are flowing into Grand Lake from Tar Creek.

Tar Creek originates within the 40-square-mile Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site contaminated by lead and zinc mining. It flows into the Neosho River, which empties into Grand Lake.

``We don't want to alarm anyone, but we want you to know what is coming downstream,'' Earl Hatley, former environmental director for the Quapaw Tribe, told area residents during a public meeting.

Bill Andrews, head of hydrological investigations for the U.S. Geological Survey in Oklahoma City, sampled five sites in Ottawa County. The tested spots were from Tar Creek to just above the point where the Spring and Neosho rivers meet and Grand Lake begins.

He said 13 tons of metals flow downstream from Tar Creek. At the farthest downstream point Andrews studied, he detected less than one ton per day.

He also found ``remarkably high'' levels of fecal streptococcal. He said the levels were ``higher than I've ever seen in a little river.''

A fecal streptococcal count of 80,000 was recorded at one site. A reading of 20,000 is standard, he said.

Fecal coli and E. coli counts also were higher than normal, Andrews said.

The possible sources for those contaminates could be four wastewater treatment plants operating upstream, officials said. The cities running the plants are Miami, Jay and Wyandotte in Oklahoma and Seneca, Mo.

All of the four wastewater treatment plants are operating under a consent order because of repeated violations, said Barbara Kaiser-Collier, environmental director for the Wyandotte Tribe. The tribe has filed complaints with state and federal agencies against those cities.

The city of Miami is building a new wastewater treatment facility.

``Small cities are trying hard,'' said Picher Mayor Sam Freeman. ``It costs a lot of money to renovate a lagoon system, takes high payments of 40 years for utility customers to pay off the debt, then in three to five years, the city is again out of compliance when regulations change.''

At a recent public meeting, Picher residents said they are frustrated because of the major health and environmental issues facing the town.

Picher children have blood-lead levels that are four times higher than the national average. The town is full of sinkholes and open mine shafts, and acid mine water bubbles underground and into streams.

Dave Ketcher, a Jay resident, said federal and state officials, including the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, have not done enough to stop the spread of pollution.

``EPA, ODEQ and the Oklahoma Water Resource Board _ they're all a joke,'' he said. ``They need to be fired, every one of them.''