Tri-state is an appropriate name, not only for the mining field, but also the reach of environmental impact. That's according to John Meyer, EPA Region 6 project manager for the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
Meyer works on Operable Unit 5, a division created to deal with surface runoff and discharges that flow into the streams and cause environmental issues.
It's a tri-state issue involving Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, Meyer explained, because different rivers and creeks feed into the Spring and Neosho rivers and eventually flow into Grand Lake.
Two years ago, EPA project managers from each of the three states, as well as tribal and state environmental officials, decided they needed to come together and work toward common solutions, Meyer explained
He said they divided the study area in eight bodies of water - Upper Spring River, Spring River Mainstem, Center Creek, Turkey Creek, Shoal Creek, Lost Creek, Tar Creek and the Neosho River.
Of the 70 sites studied in the eight areas, high risk was identified at 20 spots, according to Meyer's report, that indicate what he described as a lot of areas of concern due to concentrations of zinc, lead and cadmium.
Samples were taken at the convergence of two streams, Meyer said, to collect data separately from the two bodies plus a gauge afterward.
Tar Creek has a very high content of heavy metals, and the Neosho is a muddy river where the particles attach and settle out. The further downstream, the more settling has occurred and those metals shouldn't pose a risk unless dredging occurs, Meyer explained.
The bright orange iron content can literally smother the stream. But, in the sampling last May, Meyer said he didn't see a dramatic increase in mine discharge. Over time, the levels of metals in the discharge gradually have gotten lower, he said.
Meyer said the next step is to “make sure we understand the risk in all areas and come forward with a plan.”
That plan is expected to be finalized this summer, he said, adding that the EPA will prioritize and move forward with cleanup regardless of how many people reside in the impacted area.
Cleanup won't be effective until source materials such as chat piles and sludge ponds are addressed, Meyer cautioned.
This summer, according to Meyer, another round of sampling is planned to further evaluate sediment for contamination, toxicity and bioaccumulation as well as the relationship between sediment chemistry and sediment toxicity.
“The ultimate goal is to get back to a pristine stream that is free from risk to wildlife and humans,” Meyer said.
Funding any project always brings a set of challenges, but he said that, by sharing the work load, EPA has managed to “sweep in the corners and find extra money.”
Meyer said one of the tribes volunteered a boat, the EPA used in-house labor, cut out the consultants and, thus far, the agency has managed to get the job done.