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17th National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek will cover a broad range of issues

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Historical photos of the Netta Mines in Picher and Miami, Oklahoma.
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Superfund sites in Oklahoma

MIAMI, Okla. – Moseley Road, Tinker Air Force Base, The Tenth Street Dump.  These are just three of the five EPA Superfund sites in Oklahoma County. Another ten sites are scattered across seven other counties in the state.  These toxic waste sites continue to poison soils, streams, and drinking water sources with heavy metals like chromium-6, lead, and arsenic. Toxic chemicals such as BTEX, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds remain present in the soils.  Large plumes of benzine and other chemical compounds can be found in Oklahoma’s underground water sources such as the Garber-Wellington Aquifer.

Five of Oklahoma’s Superfund sites are abandoned refineries.  The Double Eagle Refinery site in Del City doubled as a catch-all dumping ground for industrial wastes. Major US companies like 3-M and Goodyear used the Double Eagle Refinery site and dispose of hazardous materials. EPA documents say these toxic wastes were stored in unlined pits, which allow contaminants to leach into the soil and groundwater sources. 

Del City has a high concentration of Black and Hispanic residents.  About 17 percent of Del City residents are African American.  7 percent are Latino. 7 percent are “mixed-race.” 4 percent are Native American.  Del City is also near another Superfund Site, Tinker Air Force Base, which has been responsible for chromium-6 and VOC contamination.  Clean up efforts are still ongoing.

Environmental racism: The Tar Creek example

In Indian country, long-abandoned lead mines and heavy industrial sites have left behind scarred landscapes, undrinkable water, and a lasting legacy of environmental racism.

One of the most infamous and well known Superfund sites in Oklahoma is Tar Creek near Miami, Ok.   The intensive lead mining helped keep the US military supplied with ammunition through two World Wars. After World War II, the lead mining industry experienced a sharp decline.  By the 1970’s all the mines had been abandoned. Most of the mining companies went bankrupt and were not held liable for the cleanup. The majority of the lands are still owned by Quapaw Nation.  According to the EPA, "The Quapaw Nation and a group of seven other small tribes in Ottawa County own 80 percent of the land that makes up the Tar Creek Superfund site.”

Due to the high level of contamination from lead and other heavy metals, Tar Creek is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in US history. The contamination has caused widespread lead poisoning in the town of Picher, Oklahoma where more than 100 mountains of lead waste or “chat” are still piled several stories high.  Stories from Picher and Quapaw tribe have been chronicled in two feature-length documentaries--Tar Creek and The Creek Runs Red.

17th Annual Environmental Conference at Tar Creek

On Tuesday September 29, LEAD Agency is hosting their 17th National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek. The conference will include talks and panel discussions from tribal leaders, investigative journalists, environmental scientists, and members of the Waterkeeper Alliance. The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and LEAD Agency are among few Oklahoma-based groups taking action to restore Superfund sites. Their aim is to remediate the damage done by the mining industry and to discuss other pressing environmental issues that impact tribal citizens in the state.

Sept. 29, State and Tribal officials will give an update on the Tar Creek Superfund, including EPA’s continuing work on the project.  Because the mining sites reach into Missouri and Kansas, the Superfund falls under the jurisdiction of two separate US EPA regions. 

Robert Nairn, a University of Oklahoma professor and director of the Center for the Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds, will talk about his ongoing efforts to remediate water contamination through passive treatment methods

The conference will open with a blessing from Eastern Shawnee Tribal Chief Glena Wallace. Grand Riverkeeper Earl Hatley will report on water quality issues related to the Arkansas River watershed and the abandoned lead mines.  Attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, Kelly Hunter-Foster will talk about the recent Clean Water Act Rule which applies new regulations to protect streams and floodplain areas.

Day two of the conference opens with a keynote address from Marc Yaggi, executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  Discussion will also address contemporary topics such as climate change, renewable energy development, fracking, and emergency preparedness.

LEAD's Grand Riverkeeper Earl Hatley said “speakers will cover various aspects of the above topics so that all will leave with a better understanding of the issues we face.”

For more information about the conference, contact Rebecca Jim, LEAD Agency at 918 256-5269

Background on the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma

Like many American Indian tribes, the Quapaws were ravaged by multiple epidemics of smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, and other European crowd-type diseases. After European contact, Quapaws became a diaspora of several scattered bands of Dakota Sioux and Osage peoples, forcibly removed from ancestral lands along the Ohio River. Quapaws were resettled downstream along portions of the Mississippi River in Arkansas. In 1824 they were moved to the Red River valley and again back to Arkansas in 1830.  In 1834 the US Government again relocated the Quapaws, moving them from Arkansas to Indian Territory in what is now North East Oklahoma. At that time, tribal members had 96,000 acres of land. By 1867, Quapaws and been forced to cede more than half of that territory. Only 13,000 acres remain in their possession today. After being relocated to Oklahoma, Quapaws endured long periods of starvation.  In 1897, lead and zinc deposits were found on the Quapaw’s reservation.  Heavy mining operations on Quapaw land began in 1919 and continued into the 1970s.

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About the Author

Casey Holcomb

Casey Holcomb is a writer, independent journalist, and policy advocate based in Norman, Oklahoma...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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