Dust clouds in Ottawa County

Tuesday, April 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Lawmakers at the State Capitol make decisions that affect us all. State legislators are considering two senate bills that some are saying could have a profound effect on children in the old mining towns of Picher and Cardin.

As KOTV's Tami Marler shows us, pending legislation may stir up more than controversy. It's a windy day in the former mining town of Picher. The dust blowing around is what's left of the one of the nation's largest lead and zinc mining operations. "It was like a dust bowl. You couldn't even see." Kim Pace grew up in Picher. She's never left. Monday, she's principal of the elementary school, and she's concerned about how this dust is affecting her kids. "On a good day, it's blowing and it's hazardous. It has to be, to breathe that." The 3rd-graders are working on "Earth Day" posters, all about cleaning up the land. Ironically, they live in the middle of the EPA's oldest superfund site, where decades after mining activities ceased, lead continues to have a negative effect on children in the area.

Picher-Cardin school superintendent, Bob Walker, "You know I think it is factual that uh exposure to lead at pre-school age can cause some learning problems; health problems. So you know we have some children who certainly are candidates." Walker says they see learning problems that can be associated with lead exposure, and wonders how much potential has been lost to lead poisoning. "Chat removal, those things that affect those kids today." Politicians say they understand. Senator Rick Littlefield of Grove says the answer is in removing 70-million tons of chat, the mining leftovers laced with lead and other harmful metals. He's pushing two pieces of legislation that would clear the way to begin selling and removing the man-made mountains. But studies suggest it would take 20 years of full-blown transportation to clear the land.

Area residents say they don't have that kind of time. Kim Pace: "Yesterday was important in the life of a child. Especially in the primary years when they are being born and developing. Those are the most important years - 0 to 6. And so yes, I do cringe when I think of it taking two more years or 18 more years, or 25 more years." Still, the storm of controversy rages on in Ottawa County. Senator Rick Littlefield's two pieces of legislation regarding "chat" sailed through both the House and Senate.

After the Grove senator reviews the amended versions, they will go on to Governor Keating for approval.