Prioritizing Tar Creek has rather been an occupation in my retirement so it was good news to hear the guy in charge of the EPA stating his commitment to continued funding for our superfund site.
It is a math-thing when you start looking at the numbers. Lead and zinc companies made a billion dollars and as the numbers keep coming, it looks like it may cost that much to clean up the mess that was left behind. Cause and effect. Takes money to make money. It also took time and will take time to complete a cleanup.
And most of us were taught, if you make a mess, it is your responsibility to clean it up. The companies that left behind this mess in Ottawa County continued to operate the same way and have messed up places around the globe, our sister sites and for the most part did it as the mode of operation, cut and run. Dodge responsibility for as long as possible, then give in and pay for some of the cleanup, or in our case, dissolve and go bankrupt. It costs too much to operate badly, so they reorganize and pay some of the debtors pennies on the dollar.
This is one of the main reasons EPA established the Superfund, to be able to fund cleanup of abandoned sites while looking for the responsible parties for reimbursement. it was a tax on polluters and it built the fund that cleaned up many sites around the country. But the companies lobbied Congress and it worked. Congress failed to reauthorize the Superfund tax way back in 1995 and the fund got depleted since cleanups continued. EPA continued following the polluters responsible for messed up toxic sites, but their power had been diminished and cleanups slowed down.
Some of the companies responsible for the Tar Creek Superfund mess have kicked in some funding for the cleanup, but for 2 decades we have been dependent on Congress to find funding and that has been a slow process, bit by bit, since there are many needs around the country that must be met.
It is easy to get forgotten and left behind looking like another planet with all those other places exerting pressure with voices saying CLEAN US UP NOW and for the most part our silence. But remarkable as it may seem, even a few voices in the wilderness can be heard. Find yours. Speak out for justice for our damaged land. The Quapaw Tribe has spoken out and so have the tribes of Northeast Oklahoma and it has mattered. Imagine joining the chorus. What happens here will continue to affect the future generations until it is cleaned up.
Heavy metals will not dissolve or evaporate, they are here for the duration. Our metals and those from the other affected counties in Missouri and Kansas contribute to the loading of metals into the Spring and Neosho Rivers and then into the Grand River's dams.
Our heavy metals are lead, cadmium, arsenic and manganese. EPA decided years ago that they would use Lead here as the "contaminate of concern" and should be since we know it causes long term health affects, not only the loss of IQ or behavioral and neurological problems that may be identified in children, but also health consequences for adults. Many people say, "I have lived here all my life and lead never bothered me." It is hard to prove our lives might have been different if we hadn't been exposed as children to lead. But knowing the facts will help motivate us to help eliminate future exposures for others. No need to risk others' futures because our own exposure and consequences have not been evaluated.
Reading EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's comments to prioritize superfund cleanups must give many people living in them and downstream or downwind across the country some hope, it gives us some. In the Tar Creek Superfund site which was 40 square miles before they added the watershed down to Twin Bridges and the yard residual cleanup anywhere in Ottawa County.
We are big. So when they break us down to cleaning up a yard, and then an acre, it will take time. A lot of money has been spent here, and since the EPA's "lessons learned" phase, much more carefully. Still celebrating 600 acres is an accomplishment and over 3000 residential yards. We have 8000 more residential yards to check in the county and thousands of acres waiting their turn to be cleared of chat for the land beneath to see the light of day again.
LEAD Agency would ask you join the crew speaking up and just standing or sitting around looking interested. Put your feet to the ground or saddle up your bicycle for the Recycle Tar Creek Bike Ride (s) because there will be more of them. Mark your calendars for the National Tar Creek Conference which will be held at NEO this year September 26 and 27. Find out what is happening, what needs to happen next and how this stuff really can and may have already affected us all. Join the folks prioritizing Superfund cleanups.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
— Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency