MIAMI, Okla. – More than 5 million tonnes of cat has been removed and at least 793 acres of lead contaminated land in the Tar Creek Superfund site has now been cleared, according to project managers who attended this year’s Tar Creek conference at Miami.
Entities that were instrumental in cleaning up the site shared their progress during day two of the 23rd Annual Tar Creek Conference held last week.
Officials from the Quapaw Nation were joined virtually Wednesday by project leaders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality at the conference which focuses on contamination left by decades of lead and zinc mining in the Tri-State District. The agencies informed the public of their latest accomplishments at the Superfund site, part of the Ottawa County Tri-State Mining District.
But more needs to be done to undo the damage left by decades of mining.
Tar Creek spans over 40 square miles in the former mining area of northeastern Oklahoma and was added to the EPA’s National Priority List in 1983, making it one of the oldest Superfund sites in the country.
The Quapaw Nation, the EPA and the ODEQ have worked together for years to monitor and clean up the contaminated soil on the site. Mining began in the area in the late 1800s and ended in 1970. Mining and crushing of ore, mainly lead and zinc, produced over 500 million tonnes of waste in the region.
“The statistics for Tar Creek itself and mining here at Picher were for every ton of ore taken from the site, 16 tons of cat were left here,” said Craig Kreman, environmental director for the Quapaw Nation. “That says a lot about the amount of garbage that has been left here, not only in Picher but in (all) the Tri-State Mining District.”
Over 40 square miles were included when the EPA added Tar Creek to the federal list of national priorities. Kreman said Tar Creek is one of four Superfund sites located in the former Tri-State Mining District, which covers approximately 2,500 square miles in southeastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, and northeastern Missouri. eastern Oklahoma.
A survey study completed in 2007 estimated that 65.4 million tonnes of trash remained at the Tar Creek Superfund site, which falls entirely under the jurisdiction of the Quapaw Nation. The tribe has been involved in cleanup efforts with the Superfund since 2001, according to Kreman.
In 2013, the Quapaw Nation was asked to reclaim 40 acres of tribal land near Quapaw, called Catholic 40. The Quapaw Services Authority of the Quapaw Nation completed the cleanup at Catholic 40 a year later, after removing 107 000 tons of cat and have covered two mine shafts.
“In the early 1900s it was a Catholic mission,” Kreman said. “It was then turned over to mining and ultimately returned and in tribal trust ownership. It was about 14 to 15 acres of mine waste that we treated in 2013. ”
Once the project is complete, the EPA agreed that the tribe should lead the cleanup of the remaining cat piles and tailings on the tribal lands at the Tar Creek site. To date, Kreman said, the Quapaw Nation has removed 4,374,385 tonnes of cat, covered 48 mine shafts and cleared 543 acres of land.
The ODEQ worked with the tribe on parts of Tar Creek where the state removed around 1.4 million tonnes of cat and cleaned up around 250 acres of property, according to Zach Bradley, project manager of Operational Unit 4. .
The Superfund site is divided into areas of interest called business units. In Tar Creek, Mineable Unit 4 consists of kitten piles, mine / factory waste, and smelter waste.
Another project that has been successfully cleaned up is Distal 6A, a property adjacent to Catholic 40. Bradley said about 91,000 tons of cat had been removed from 20 acres of the property, as four mine shafts were being filled and capped. The ODEQ grant for this project ended last year.
“It was our first project as head of state,” Bradley said. “We worked in coordination with the Quapaw Nation, we partnered with them and they did the work on our behalf.”
Land once littered with heavy metals has been transformed into a flourishing green space thanks to the cleaning. Kreman said the tribe used mushroom compost to aid the cleaning process and improve vegetative growth.
Bradley said one of the ODEQ’s biggest projects to date has been a site clean-up near Beaver Creek.
“This is where we spend most of our time and effort,” he said. “We have reclaimed about 200 acres here with 1.2 million tonnes of raw material (cat) removed from the project area, and we have closed 19 mine shafts. It was a big project. We’ve been working on this project since 2017 and just finished the work there.
“We are quite satisfied with this project,” he said.