On this page:
- Site Background
- Site Status
- Work to Protect Human Health and the Environment
- Site Risks
The Cherokee County Superfund site is a former mining area in southeast Kansas, part of a larger regional mining area known as the Tri-State Mining District. It covers about 115 square miles. Over 100 years of widespread lead and zinc mining created piles of mine tailings covering more than 4,000 acres. The mine tailings contaminated groundwater with lead, zinc and cadmium. Following cleanup, operation and maintenance activities and monitoring are ongoing.The Site is divided into seven subsites that are grouped and divided into nine operable units (OUs). Lead and zinc mining was conducted for over 100 years from the middle 1800s to 1970 at the Site and the primary contaminants of concern are lead, zinc, and cadmium. Millions of cubic yards of mine tailings are present at the surface in addition to impacted soils, surface water, sediments, and groundwater. The Site was listed on the National Priority List (NPL) in September 1983. Several Records of Decision (RODs) have been issued and many cleanups have been completed or are currently underway. Several Consent Decrees with responsible parties (PRPs) have also been completed and PRPs have funded and conducted many cleanups at the Site in addition to cleanup actions funded and implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bankruptcy settlements have also yielded monies for Site use in addition to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. Site-wide, nearly three million cubic yards of mining wastes have been remediated on nearly 2,000 acres, over 700 residential yards have been remediated, and over 500 homes have been supplied with a clean, permanent source of drinking water.
Activities have been completed at OU 01, OU 05, and OU 07. The following information summarizes the current status of the remaining ongoing OU’s at the Site.
OU 02 - Spring River Basin: Many of the subsites drain to the Spring River basin; thus, EPA will address this subsite when cleanup of the other subsites finishes. Studies to determine the extent of contamination are ongoing. This OU is still in the site characterization phase and a remedy selection has not been made.
OU 03 - Baxter Springs Subsite: Currently, there is an ongoing phase of EPA-lead remedial action to address approximately 400,000 cubic yards of mine waste and contaminated soils.
OU 04 - Treece Subsite: Currently, there is an ongoing phase of EPA-lead remedial action to address approximately 945,000 cubic yards of mine waste, contaminated soils, and contaminated sediments of the intermittent tributary to Tar Creek.
OU 06 - Badger, Lawton, Waco and Crestline subsites: Repair work was required on previously completed EPA-lead remedial action project areas due to flooding and drought.
OU 08 - Railroads: Following the 2016 remedy selection, a remedial design was initiated to begin drafting implementation of the selected remedy.
OU 09 - Tar Creek Watershed: Due to the exclusion of sediments as a media and perennial streams from the OU 04 ROD, the sediments for the perennial portion of Tar Creek in the Treece Subsite will be addressed under this OU. This OU is still in the site characterization phase and a remedy selection has not been made.
Work to Protect Human Health and the Environment
The EPA placed the Site on the NPL on September 8, 1983. The EPA began its investigation of the Galena subsite in 1985. The Galena subsite investigations demonstrated that the shallow groundwater aquifer and the surface water were contaminated with elevated concentrations of metals.
Initial response actions included the provision of bottled water and water softener units as removal actions prior to the construction of a permanent alternate water supply system as the final remedial action. This initial removal action work was conducted at OU 01. A subsequent removal action was conducted at OU 07 and involved the remediation of residential yards that were significantly impacted by elevated levels of lead. The work was followed by a long-term remedial action at OU 07. These are the only two removal actions conducted at the Site.
Several response actions have been completed at the Site and many are currently underway; thus, many OUs are in different phases of the Superfund process. Work activities are also being conducted by PRPs, in addition to EPA, at many of the subsites and OUs. The following information summarizes completed response actions for each OU at the Site.
OU 01 - Galena Alternate Water Supply
The Galena subsite is one of the seven subsites in the Site. The Galena subsite is divided into three operable units, alternative water supply, ground water/surface water, and residential soils remediation. The alterative water supply ROD included the following components:
This OU is in the operation and maintenance (O&M) phase. All work was completed as a fund-lead effort, and the remedy is in place under long-term O&M by the state of Kansas. A rural water district was formed; water supply wells were installed; support buildings constructed; and the new source of drinking water was provided to 400 residences in rural areas near the community of Galena, Kansas. Nearly 1,500 people were provided with a permanent source of clean drinking water and over 57 miles of pipeline were placed during the construction effort. The upper aquifer in this area is impacted by metals contaminants (lead, zinc, and cadmium) from historic mining operations. Private, shallow, water supply wells were affected and have been addressed. The municipal wells for the city of Galena are constructed in a lower pristine, potable aquifer and are not impacted by past mining activities. The source of water for the rural water district is also the lower potable aquifer. The rural water district has expanded by over 100 new users (>500 residential hookups) since completion of the remedial action in 1994.
OU 02 - Spring River Basin
This OU is still in the site characterization phase and a remedy selection has not been made.
OU 03 - Baxter Springs subsite
The Baxter Springs subsite is the area surrounding the city of Baxter Springs. Nonresidential remedy components: excavate, grade, and consolidate mining wastes followed by capping and revegetation. Remove impacted sediments from drainages and fill mine shafts and collapse features. ICs include the state of Kansas Environmental Use Controls (EUCs) on most properties that contain capped wastes.
Residential remedy components: excavate impacted soils from residential yards and replace with clean soils followed by yard reestablishment. Impacted soils placed in a soil repository located at the Galena subsite.
Many phases of work have been completed, are underway, and have been conducted by PRPs and EPA at this subsite. The PRP portions of this OU are currently in the O&M phase. Approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of mining wastes have been remediated by EPA and PRPs to date.
OU 04 - Treece Subsite
The Treece subsite is the area surrounding the former city of Treece. Nonresidential and residential remedy components, in addition to O&M activities, are the same as described for OU 03 above.
Many phases of work have been completed or are underway and being conducted by PRPs and EPA at this subsite. EPA implemented a voluntary residential buy-out for the community of Treece, Kansas, that was conducted by KDHE. All buy-out activities in the community of Treece were concluded with the disbandment of the Treece Relocation Assistance Trust on May 22, 2014.
OU 05 - Galena Groundwater/Surface Water
The Galena subsite is divided into three operable units, alternative water supply, ground water/surface water, and residential soils remediation.
Nonresidential remedy components: same as described above for OU 03 with the exception of the PRP smelter work. There is no residential component for this remedy.
PRP smelter remedy components: decontaminate former smelter buildings and remove hazards (e.g., underground tanks, transformers, chemicals). Excavate, grade, and consolidate wastes surrounding the smelter followed by capping and revegetating. Excavate impacted sediments from the stream near the smelter.
Work at this OU has been conducted by EPA and PRPs. The EPA fund-lead cleanup was completed in 1996 and the PRP work was completed in 2014. Approximately 2.1 million cubic yards of mining wastes have been addressed to date. The EPA fund-lead work at this OU is in the O&M phase and is being conducted by the state of Kansas.
OU 06 - Badger, Lawton, Waco, and Crestline Subsites
This OU consists of four distinct geographic subsites with PRP involvement at the Waco and Crestline subsites, exclusive EPA fund-lead activities at the Badger and Lawton subsites, and joint EPA/PRP work at the Waco subsite.
Nonresidential remedy components: same as described above for OU 03. There is no residential component at this OU.
Work at this OU has been conducted by EPA and PRPs. The EPA fund-lead cleanup was completed in 2011 and the PRP work was completed in 2012. Approximately 1.9 million cubic yards of mining wastes have been addressed to date.
OU 07 - Galena Residential Soils
The Galena subsite is divided into three operable units, alternative water supply, ground water/surface water, and residential soils remediation. OU 07 encompasses the mining impacted residential areas of Galena.
Residential remedy components: same as described for OU 03 above. There is no nonresidential work at this OU.
This OU is in the O&M phase and consisted of a residential cleanup action using the same criteria as discussed above for OU 03 and OU 04. More than 1,500 properties were sampled in the Galena area and over 700 residential properties were remediated. Approximately 180,000 cubic yards of impacted residential soils were addressed. This work was conducted as an EPA fund-lead effort under a 1996 ROD and was completed by 2001.
OU 08 - Railroads
During the mining years, railroads were constructed in Cherokee County to join conventional large-scale railroads to the individual mining operations. Historically, the ballast used in the railroad beds was composed of chat from surrounding mine waste piles.
A Record of Decision was signed in 2016 that included similar nonresidential remedy components as OU 03.
OU 09 - Tar Creek Watershed
Due to the exclusion of sediments as a media and perennial streams from the OU 04 ROD, the sediments for the perennial portion of Tar Creek in the Treece Subsite will be addressed under this OU. This OU is still in the site characterization phase and a remedy has not been selected.
Risks and pathways addressed by the cleanup include health risks from people touching or ingesting soil, groundwater or mine wastes, or inhaling contaminated dust.
Native grasses, streams and wildlife have replaced barren rock and gravel at the Cherokee County Superfund site in Cherokee County, Kansas. One hundred years of lead and zinc mining left the land strewn with contaminated debris and soil that caused contamination of area groundwater. EPA added the site to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. In 1993, after ensuring that area residents with private wells had safe drinking water, EPA gathered surface mine wastes and buried them on site. Workers covered land with clean soil, diverted streams to avoid the stored wastes and planted the entire site with native vegetation. In 2009, the site received $14.5 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds, which EPA is using to support cleanup activities at the Badger, Lawton, Baxter Springs and Treece sub-sites. The ARRA funding will enable EPA to complete the project in fewer years than originally anticipated. Today, EPA cleanup has restored a 25 square-mile portion of the 115 square-mile site as a wildlife habitat. Restoration efforts continue. Cleanup of this site has restored the delicate natural environment and reduced human health risks from contamination.