The Oklahoma Secretary of the Interior Gary Sherrer made an appearance at the 13th National Tar Creek Conference sponsored by the LEAD Agency held Thursday at the Miami Civic Center.
The conference's purpose is to give residents informative and educational presentations on the impact of lead and other contaminants on the health of local residents and the environment.
He said, "I want to let you know we want to hear from you. I want to go to work for you." Tyler Powell, Sherrer's aide also spoke and said, "We can't forget there's a long way to go. We learned lessons at Tar Creek and we know how to deal with it now. We're committed to do whatever it takes to fix this site."
Rebecca Jim, the director of the Local Environmental Action Demanded(LEAD) Agency welcomed participants to the event that began on Wednesday evening with a fish fry, although the fish still did not come from Tar Creek, Jim said, "One day we hope they will."
Louis "Red" Mathia, president of LEAD and Miami's mayor Kent Ketcher lauded the efforts of the volunteers to provide data and information to the public on local environmental issues as they welcomed the participants.
Earl Hatley, Grand River keeper, addressed the crowd next and said that in 1995 federal laws were voted down that previously held polluters financially accountable. He said that Senator Jim Inhofe has been instrumental in getting money flowing to the Tar Creek Superfund site. Hatley said, "Money earmarked for superfund sites is now being challenged as it is seen as pork."
LEAD has been gathering petitions and lobbying for the reauthorization of the superfund site tax. Hatley described the difficulties faced, he said, "It's swimming upstream, it's very difficult, like trying to jump the waterfall."
He said, "This county has much more exposure to toxins than we thought in the '90s when we first started."
"We're not done yet. It's not limited to right here. Chat was moved all around the area. Heavy sediments and metals that have moved downstream that we've been told not to worry about all these years. It's been getting worse."
Slides were shown and reports were given by the EPA 7 Superfund's Bryan Burnett on the remediation of the Tri-State Mining Sites in Jasper and Newton counties in Missouri. He said improvements have been made through yard remediation, education, and clean up efforts that resulted in a 78 percent decrease in young children's lead levels in Jasper County. Burnett said that 20 percent of the 1,500 acres of the project have been remediated, and one million cubic yards removed in Cherokee County, which includes Treece.
When asked about toxins and contaminates that may have spread and polluted areas as a result of the Joplin, Mo., tornado, he said, "That's a local issue that will have to be addressed there."
Burnett said that they were testing mobile home and building sites as requested.
Angela Hughes with Oklahoma DEQ in her presentation reported that nearly $56 million was spent in the Tar Creek buyouts. She said, "878 offers were made and 36 were declined." Hughes said the demolition was concluded in July of this year. She said a quarter of the chat piles remain that were there during the heyday of Picher mining. She said, "Trying to close a town is not easy. There are no rules about it, it had never been done."
When asked about the demolition of the Picher Housing Authority she said, "That's a good question, "but did not know the answer to when the process would start.
Hughes showed slides of the Picher area and added, "It does come back. It's amazing what can be done to these damaged areas."
In her presentation the EPA's Region 6 Superfund Division Director Ursala Lennox said she looks to make the best use of the clean up funding, but she said, "we're faced with a number of different challenges."
Lennox said the remediation work began at the boundaries of the 40 square mile Picher area and will progress inwardly. She said the first obstacles to overcome were access to the property and establishing a repository for the contaminated soil. The EPA faced the added challenge of the depth of the contamination and the previously unknown mine shafts they discovered.
Lennox listed four areas that the EPA is addressing chat, residential yards, smelters and streams.
She said stakeholder participation is key to success according to Lennox. She listed the stakeholders as the Oklahoma DEQ, Quapaw Tribe, Department of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs, downstream Native American tribes, local municipalities, potential responsible parties, chat and affected property owners and processors, who she said meet on Wednesdays.
Hatley asked that the LEAD agency be added to the list of stakeholders.
Lennox cited EPA projects success of AARA job creations at 80 percent. When asked how this is monitored she said by the contractors are responsible for the monitoring and admitted this percentage had fallen below the contracted 75 percent required at times.
Lennox said to date one million tons of contaminated materials have been removed, 68,000 tons of chat sold and recycled, clean up of 220 acres was accomplished and progress continues to be made to address additional areas.
Tim Kent the environmental director for the Quapaw Tribe spoke on the tribe's work and responsibilities at the Picher superfund buyout site. He said there are legal issues to address with the removal of the chat and the tribe's compensation for that. The tribe has agreed to lease a staging area to the EPA at Central Mill for the staging of restricted chat according to Kent.
The Quapaw Tribe has assumed ownership of the Picher/Cardin water system and will provide septic for the remaining businesses and residences, six to date, and will also provide EMS, and police services.
Kent said the tribe is working now to figure out how to shut down some of the area roads to curtail illegal activities there, but still allow access to the area's residents.
Oklahoma University's Dr. Bob Nairn gave an informative run down of Passive Treatment research site in Commerce at Mayer Ranch. The research project constructed in 2008 treats 250 gallons of water a minute removing mining contaminates using natural methods. Nairn said this is around 20 percent of the water mass loading into Tar Creek. The result is an on-site mass retention that keeps the contaminates from reaching tributaries that flow into Grand Lake.
Ed Rhodes with the Oklahoma State Health Department gave information that the children in this area's blood levels are still not down to other children in the state's level. He said, "The potential still exists for lead contamination. Much remains to be done."
Bob Sullivan the 6 OU 2 EPA Region is tasked with the responsibility of testing and remediating lead contaminated areas here in Ottawa County. He said, " It is my job to ensure that every child has a clean yard to play in here in Ottawa County."
Sullivan said, "Any resident in Ottawa County that wants their yard tested can have that done and if lead is found can be remediated free of charge." He said to arrange for testing residents can contact Sullivan at 214-665-2223 or 1-800 533-3508.
Sullivan said remediation will begin on Monday in Ward 3 in the southwest part of Miami. "We've identified chat in parks, playgrounds, daycares, and all over Miami and Ottawa County," Sullivan said.
The most moving words of the Tar Creek Conference came from someone who was not an expert or a scientist, but a father. Kenneth Hood Jr. spoke to the crowd with emotion overwhelming him at times, but not putting a halt to his speech. Hood said his daughter is suffering major health effects of lead contamination.
He said, "I've watched my daughter hurt. I asked the doctors, tomorrow when she wakes up will she be the same person she was. It's done, she'll be like this for the rest of her life."
He said she is a sixth grader who is at a second grade level because of what the lead has done. He had something he wanted experts and legislators and the public to know, he said, " They haven't seen what I've seen" as he described watching the effects of lead on his daughter.
Hood ended by saying, "Keep in mind there are people out there like my daughter who need your help."