Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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Site Background

Remedial action protects human health
In July 2010, EPA began the final phase of work to clean up lead contaminated residential driveways, yards, public alleyways and parks on properties in Miami, Afton, Commerce, Fairland, Narcissa, North Miami, Peoria, Quapaw, and Wyandotte (OU2). Since September 1, 2010, when the final phase began, 576 properties have been cleaned up. Since the cleanup of residential properties began, approximately 2,887 residential yards and public properties in Ottawa County have been cleaned up. As a result of the public's participation in this effort, a healthier environment exists for families to enjoy now and in the years to come. The implementation of the remedial action for Operable Unit 4 (0U4) began in January 2010. The removal of mine and mill waste in distal areas, where access was granted, started in January 2010. To date, more than 2.15 million tons of mine and mill wastes and contaminated soil have been removed from properties in distal areas. More than 570 acres of land have been cleaned up and made available for future reuse. Though EPA does not own any chat and will not purchase any chat, EPA helped facilitate chat sales which was a component of the remedy. In 2013, 17 percent of the source materials removed were purchased by local processors (with transport provided by EPA), and the processors compensated the property owners directly. The cleanup efforts at OUs 2 and 4 protect human health, especially the health of young children, and the environment.

Quapaw Tribe performs the Remedial Action at the Catholic 40
On October 1, 2012, a Cooperative Agreement was signed between EPA and the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma to perform remedial action work at the "Catholic 40". The Catholic 40 is a 40-acre tract of land owned by the Quapaw Tribe that has cultural and historical significance. Historical structures include remnants of a Catholic Church and school constructed in 1893. The remedial action involved the excavation, hauling, and disposal of approximately 107,000 tons of source material or chat. The Quapaw Tribe Environmental Office began hauling chat at the site in mid-December 2013. Extra precautions were taken during these activities in the areas near the historical structures to prevent damage. The remedial action included restoration (for example, contouring, seeding) of the Site and bank stabilization of Beaver Creek to ensure the integrity of the remedy. Beaver Creek also has cultural and historical significance to the Quapaw Tribe.

Superfund Job Training Initiative, local labor utilization benefits regional economy
Job creation is just one component of this project's impact on the local economy. EPA continues to work with project contractors to implement the Superfund Job Training Initiative (Super JTI) in Northeast Oklahoma. Super JTI provides job-readiness training and employment opportunities for underserved citizens living in communities affected by Superfund sites. The Tar Creek program generated 250 interested candidates of which 26 were selected for training. A number of graduates were hired by project contractors and others are awaiting the award of new contracts with hopes of being hired. A success story we have related to this program involves a graduate that has worked on OU4 site projects since 2010. As a result of his outstanding performance, he was hired as a full time employee by EPA's contractor CH2M HILL in July 2010. When current site remediation activities wrap up, he will have opportunities for other work, including OU2.

The 0U4 and 0U2 remedial actions have also provided economic benefits to the local community beyond the sales and marketing of chat. For example, from July 2013 through April 2014, local staff utilization on the Distal 7 North portion of the QU4 remedial action was over 80% of the construction labor, and over 45% of the construction subcontract awards have been made to small disadvantaged businesses, including veteran-owned and woman-owned businesses. For QU2, 40% of construction subcontract awards have gone to small disadvantaged businesses, including woman-owned businesses. These workers have been helping the local economy by spending funds with local vendors.

EPA is solving two problems at once and helping eliminate hazards from abandoned mine shafts and subsidence features
Addressing abandoned mine shafts and subsidence features is not a specific goal related to reducing the risks of exposure associated with mining-related contamination. However, EPA has taken advantage of utilizing the presence of abandoned mine shafts and subsidence features for the placement of source materials. By placement and capping of the source materials in these features, the footprint of contamination is reduced, and the risk of exposure and the risk of open holes to people and livestock are reduced. In 2013 alone, over 8 percent of source materials removed were placed and capped in onsite subsidence features and/or mine shafts. Since remediation began, over 150 abandoned mine shafts have been filled and capped to reduce the risk of exposure to site contaminants.

Reuse of site materials
Sustainability through re-use or recycling of site materials is another focus for the remedial action. Trees removed from the work areas during construction are segregated from other wastes to allow re-use and recycling where possible. Root balls from vegetative clearing may have contaminated soil attached, and are transported to the Central Mill Repository, but waste trees and other wood debris are available for mulching. Sampling and analysis of the chipped waste tree and wood debris material is performed, and results indicate concentrations of lead, cadmium and zinc are well below the cleanup goals and Regional Screening Levels for residential soil. From the Distal 7 North site alone, over 2,000 cubic yards of mulch was provided to a local company for use as mulch. Remedial activities at the Distal 7 South site have yielded 2,115 cubic yards of mulch.

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EPA’s Involvement at this Site

Lead and zinc mining activities first began at the site in the early 1900s. During the early mining period, most mining was by small operators on 20- to 40-acre tracts. Each operator conducted their own mining, drilling and milling activities. Mining activities occurred within a 50-to-150-foot-thick ore bearing zone within the Boone Formation. The maximum depth of mining was about 385 feet below ground surface. Mining was accomplished using room and pillar techniques. To remove the ore, large rooms, some with ceilings as high as 100 feet, were connected by horizontal tunnels known as drifts. Pillars were left within the rooms to support the ceilings.

The lead and zinc ores were milled locally and generally sent to locations outside of Ottawa County for smelting. Rapid expansion of mining activities occurred during the 1920s and mining activities reached their peak around 1925. Each mine holding usually had its own mill. During the 1930s, large central mills came into operation, and most mining operations stopped operating their own mills. During the peak of mining activities, 130,410 tons of lead and 749,254 tons of zinc were produced annually. Large-scale underground mining activities ended in 1958. Smaller mining operations continued in the Picher Field through the 1960s. All mining activities at the site ceased in the 1970s.

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Site Status

EPA divided the site into several operable units (OUs) to prioritize and manage cleanup.

OU-1: OU-1 addresses the surface water degradation by the discharge of acid mine water and the threat of contamination of the Roubidoux Aquifer, the regional water supply, by downward migration of acid mine water from the overlying Boone Aquifer through abandoned wells connecting the two. The final remedy for OU-1, selected in 1984, included use of diking and diversion structures to stop the surface water of Tar Creek from entering the two collapsed mine shafts in Kansas, which were identified as the main inflow points. The remedy also included plugging 83 abandoned wells. Construction activities finished in December 1986. Groundwater monitoring is ongoing.

OU-2: OU-2 addresses residential areas. The long-term remedy for OU-2, selected in 1997, included remediation of residential yards and High Access Areas. More than 2,846 residential yards and public areas have been remediated since cleanup began in Quapaw, Cardin, Picher, Commerce and North Miami. Work on the final 119 properties in Commerce began in December 2005 and is projected to be completed soon. In May 2004, the State of Oklahoma implemented a relocation program for families with children under the age of seven. The footprints of buildings demolished as part of the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT) buy-out under OU-4 remain to be addressed under OU-2.

OU-3: OU-3 addressed abandoned laboratory chemicals at the former Eagle-Picher Office Complex in Cardin, Oklahoma. One hundred and twenty containers of chemicals were removed as part of a removal response action. No further action is necessary.

OU-4: OU-4 addresses source materials, rural residential yard contamination, transition zone soil contamination and contamination in water from rural residential wells. The selected remedy also includes relocation, which will continue to be implemented by LICRAT, and chat sales. Though EPA does not own any chat and will not purchase any chat, it will assist chat sales participants as part of EPA’s CERCLA remedy. EPA has completed three chat disposal pilot projects. About 34,600 tons of chat were injected into underground mine caverns. An additional 40,000 tons of mine waste were contained in an innovative trench/road system. Two more pilot projects are underway. Both include injecting washed chat fines directly into mine caverns and eliminating sediment/holding ponds. The data will help better define design criteria.

OU-4 includes an additional area, called the Catholic 40. The area is a 40-acre tract of land owned by the Quapaw Tribe that has cultural and historical significance. Historical structures include remnants of a Catholic church and school built in 1893. Cleanup will include the excavation, hauling, and disposal of 107,000 tons of source material or chat. Chat is the mine waste left at the site by lead and zinc mining operations. The cleanup will also include site restoration and bank stabilization of Beaver Creek.

OU-5: OU-5 addresses sediment and surface water. EPA Region 6 is working with EPA Region 7 as part of multi-state effort to characterize sediment and surface water throughout the Spring and Neosho River basins.
Site Progress includes:
  • June 2015, December 2015, and February 2016: OU 5, Sediment and Surface Water Update and Discussion Meeting
  • July 2015: Remedial Investigation and Human Health Risk Assessment Start
  • The process includes three parts: Data Gap Analysis, Human Health Risk Assessment, and the RI Characterization Report
  • Data Reference List: updated with input August 2015, September 2015, December 2015, and Febarury 2016
  • Data Review and Evaluation Criteria: updated with input October 2015 and February 2016
  • Human Health Conceptual Exposure Model: updated with input December 2015 and February 2016

Current Status: Based on the above completed actions and input from the stakeholders, the development of the Data Gap Analysis Report is underway.



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Work to Protect Human Health and the Environment

The site is being addressed through federal, state, tribe and potentially responsible party (PRP) actions.

The cleanup of lead-contaminated soils from over 2,846 residential yards and high-access areas in the five-city mining area has significantly reduced the exposure of the population, especially for young children. Additionally, abandoned well plugging has reduced the potential for contaminants in the shallow Boone Aquifer to migrate to the Roubideax drinking water aquifer.

EPA has conducted five-year reviews at the site. These reviews ensure that the remedies put in place protect public health and the environment, and function as intended by site decision documents. The most recent review concluded that response actions at the site are in accordance with the remedy selected by EPA and that the remedy continues to be protective of human health and the environment in the short term. The most recent review identified six issues to address to ensure long-term protectiveness of the remedy.
Under OU5, the potential risks associated with exposures to surface water and sediment are being evaluated through a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). This HHRA is being coordinated with Region 7, ODEQ, tribes, and the community. The HHRA will include 7 watersheds covering approximately 437 square miles and 119 river miles within Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and 8 tribal areas.

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Site Risks

Risks and pathways addressed by the cleanup include health risks from people ingesting, touching or inhaling contaminants in soil.

As of April 2016, there is insufficient information to determine the potential human health risks related to surface water and sediment exposure.  EPA Regions 6 and 7 are working closely with the 3 states, the 9 tribes, and the community to develop and complete a human health risk assessment and characterization report.


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The Tar Creek (Ottawa County) Superfund site spans about 12,600 acres in the Tri-State Mining District of northeastern Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, and southwestern Missouri. Mining waste piles are located on more than 1,444 acres of the site. EPA added the site to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. Cleanup actions address surface and groundwater contamination. Cleanup workers built structures to keep runoff from entering mine systems, plugged mine wells and monitor groundwater. In addition, workers cleaned residential yards, wells and public areas and removed abandoned mining chemicals and source materials on the site. As of April 2015, workers remediated over 2,800 properties under Operable Unit 2. The cleanup also addresses residential relocation and sale of chat (a mining waste). EPA does not own any chat and will not purchase any chat. However, it is assisting chat sale participants, including the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and local chat processors, as part of the site’s Superfund remedy. EPA used funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded in 2009 to fund buyouts and relocations for the towns of Picher, Cardin and Hockerville, Oklahoma, and Treece, Kansas. The buyout and demolition activities are completed. In 2013, the Quapaw Tribe became the first tribe to manage the cleanup of a Superfund site when it initiated the cleanup of the Catholic 40 portion of the site. Residential, commercial and public uses continue on several cleaned up properties. Reuses for properties currently undergoing cleanup are typically agricultural or rural. To date, workers remediated 2,887 properties under OU2.

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