Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oklahoma City Dies From of Environmental Contamination

by Duane Craig

Mining contamination in Pilcher OK
Communities have always come and gone, riding on the winds of economic events and the whims of business and politics. But we are also seeing examples of ones that disappear simply because the environment has been contaminated so much there’s nothing left to do but pack-up and leave.

Of course, there are always those hangers-on who will stay even after most everyone has gone and that’s the case too in Picher, Oklahoma, where at least a few residents are staying put while the town is demolished around them. It sounds like a great intro to a scary movie or a dark, thrilling novel, yet it is real life.

Picher has a legacy of contamination left behind from mining and in 1983 it became the epicenter of “one of the most toxic places in America,” and part of a Superfund site covering 40 square miles. In some places it’s uncertain just how long it will be before more large chunks of land just cave in, leaving holes like the one that killed a motorist. Many children from the town were found to have cognitive and learning problems assumed to be caused by the lead contamination in the water.

The remaining mining waste piles (chat piles), where kids used to play, now just slowly dissolve in the wind and rain, breaking down to add to the concentrations of lead, cadmium and zinc distributed across the town’s property. The EPA says it’s rare for an entire town to have to be relocated and the federal government has so far spent $46 million to buy out those who wanted to go. A previous buyout, paid for by the state, moved 50 families from high risk areas. Eventually, all but four percent took the buyouts.

As if the town didn’t have enough woes it was struck by a tornado in 2008 and in 2009 the city and the school district decided they couldn’t go on and folded up. Today, buildings are being demolished and carted away as those few stubborn souls stick around to see what happens next. As of a March 4 account there were 247 structures left to demolish with a plan to finish that job in about 150 days.

After that it looks like the next step will be to give the land back to the local Quapaw tribe, which owned it before the mining started. They might turn it into a wetland.

There seem to be many people who have an unbridled trust in industry to “do the right thing” when it comes to the environment, even though the track record may not support that level of optimism. Then too, it might be it’s really just the desire for wealth that makes environmental degradation acceptable, and as long as companies are willing to pay wages it’s easier to turn a blind eye to things that may not affect us for a few years or more.

Perhaps the loss of a town out in the middle of nowhere is no big deal. It does seem though the reason for the loss should be.

Read the original story here and open this fascinating link to see pictures of the area.


LeapTBL said...

Kansas wants to allow the chat piles to be used as material for highway construction. Great plan, take the toxic leftovers and spread them around even further.

Anonymous said...

Sounds terrible. Leap have you done anything to spread the word about that? Have you posted that plan on EP communities?