Tests show elevated lead levels in school grounds in Tar Creek

Monday, April 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Soil from school grounds in Miami and Picher is contaminated with lead from Tar Creek mine waste, federal tests released Monday show, but at least one school official said he was ``encouraged.''

The Environmental Protection Agency, which took 1,452 soil samples from 11 schools and three school properties earlier this year, said 216 of the samples revealed unacceptable levels of lead.

Of those contaminated samples, 61 came from seven sites in Miami while 155 came from one Picher property, which is designated to be an elementary school playground, the agency said.

A sample of the Picher soil contained almost 40 times the agency's acceptable level of lead, while peak contamination in Miami was more than seven times the limit, the agency said.

A $250,000 cleanup, which includes replacing contaminated dirt with clean soil, will begin after the school year ends and should be completed before school starts in the fall, the EPA said.

The tests are the agency's second within a year of soil in the Tar Creek area. In June, the agency said lead levels in Miami baseball fields and parks were above acceptable standards _ in some cases six to nine times higher.

The northeast Oklahoma towns have been inundated with chat, a gravel-like refuse left over from former lead and zinc mining operations in the 40-mile Tar Creek area.

The chat was used as fill material for driveways and in local playgrounds, resulting in high blood-lead readings in residents, particularly children. High amounts of lead in the blood can lead to learning deficiencies and other health problems.

Mining began in Ottawa County in the early 1900s and continued until the 1960s. The EPA has spent nearly $100 million in a two-decade long cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund site.

Bill Stephens, superintendent of Miami Public School District, said he feared the test results would be worse.

``We have some spots on our grounds that are going to have to be'' cleaned, said Stephens, who learned of the results last week. ``But as far as huge portions of our grounds needing to be removed, that's not the case.''

He said he is not worried about students becoming poisoned before the soil is replaced.

``If they've been all right for 30 years, I don't see how another 20 days will hurt them,'' he said.

Officials with the Picher-Cardin School District and the Ottawa County Health Department could not be reached for comment.

Nichols and Wilson elementary schools in Miami, Miami Kindergarten Center and the future playground in Picher will require extensive cleaning, the agency said.

Miami High School, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools and the Miami Administration Center will need only limited cleanup, the agency said.