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Tar Creek updates focus of open house on April 11 in Miami

Mar. 25—MIAMI, Okla. — An update on the Tar Creek Superfund site will be the focus of an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at the Miami Civic Center, 129 Fifth Ave. NW in Miami.

Federal, state and tribal agencies will discuss updates of the remediation.

The meeting will focus on the significance of blood-lead testing for children and free residential soil cleanup. Other topics include updates on chat pile cleanup and surface water investigations.

The event will have food trucks, free coffee and free blood testing.

Tar Creek is one of the oldest and most complex Superfund sites in the nation.

It is a former lead and zinc mining area that was part of the Tri-State Mining District, which also included Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas. Lead and zinc mining occurred throughout the region from the 1870s for nearly a century. The area was left with toxic heavy metals, giant chat piles and abandoned mine shafts that polluted water and left residents with elevated levels of lead in the blood.

Large-scale pumps were used to control groundwater inflow to mines, but once the mines ceased operation, they flooded. In 1979, acidic water from former mines began flowing to the surface near Commerce and flowed into Tar Creek, running red and killing most of the life downstream as a result of contamination.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added Tar Creek and 40 square miles of Ottawa County to the federal National Priorities List, making it a Superfund site, in 1983 due to high concentrations of cadmium, lead and zinc in the mined areas of Ottawa County.

Millions of tons of mine waste have been removed; mines and bore holes have been plugged; and steps, including yard remediation, have been taken to reduce lead levels in residents. However, more than 40 years later, cleanup efforts are ongoing. Picher and nearby communities also were bought out and residents relocated.

In 2022, Tar Creek itself, an 11-mile stream polluted with heavy metals, was named one of "America's Most Endangered Rivers" for its second consecutive year. The designation came from American Rivers, a nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to restore rivers.

The Quapaw Nation last year marked its 10-year involvement in cleaning up Tar Creek. The Quapaw are the first tribe in the country to take over supervision of a Superfund cleanup.

For more information, contact Ellen Isbell with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality at 405-702-5129, Sara Goyer with the Environmental Protection Agency at 214-665-6774 or Janetta Coats with the EPA at 214-665-7308.