One of the byproducts of the zinc mine was lead. When a mine is in production, the single largest burden to its profitability is the extraction of the useless soil, rock and minerals that are worthless. The gravel that is left over is referred to as chat or tailings and this material starts to build up over time. The entire area is surrounded by millions of tons of chat, some piles as large as small mountains. Low lying swampy areas were filled in with the chat, roads and driveways were paved using the chat and it was mixed with concrete for construction projects. Unfortunately for the residents this chat is heavily laced with lead.
In the 1970s high lead levels were discovered in the blood streams of the residents after the rates of kidney failures and birth defects went beyond the national percentages. It was determined that the mountains of chat was responsible for the high levels of lead in the environment, and worse, in Tar Creek and the local water supply. After much deliberation and the usual failures by the Federal Government to adequately address the issue with the corporation, the Eagle-Picher Mining Company declared bankruptcy and the mine was closed. This sounded the death knell for the surrounding area.
After more deliberation, the entire area was declared a Superfund site and the contaminated mine and surrounding chat piles were seized by the government. Residents were offered money for their property and homes and are still to this day being moved from the area. The local school is closed, very few businesses remain, and only a few residents stubbornly hang on in the area either waiting to be bought out or choosing to stay. Everywhere you look are the remains of a place where people used to live, where kids played baseball and softball, where people made the livelihood and the ever present mountians of chat.
As if to add to their punishment, a tornado ripped through Picher late last summer. The deadly EF-4 rated storm killed six and injured 150 and destroyed several neighborhoods as it cut a deadly path through the small town and drifted off just north of Quapaw, Oklahoma and into Missouri.
Please visit my Picher, Oklahoma Flickr gallery at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kcactionphoto/sets/72157613266933304/
Also, please visit the TDPG members galleries and see their vision of the area...http://www.flickr.com/groups/tulsadigital/