As of the summer of 2009 a few small towns in north eastern Oklahoma became ghost towns. This area is known as Tar Creek. About 80% of the land is the land that was given to the Quapaw tribe after the federal government moved them from their original land.
In the 1870’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) illegitimately sold Quapaw land to mining companies after lead and zinc was found in the area.
After the mines were closed in the 1970’s, the mines filled with water which led to the metal laden water getting in to ground water and near by water ways. Also huge piles of waste from the mines, called chat piles, were left. These piles contain large amounts of lead and other toxic metals that blow around in the wind and contaminate the communities around them.
In 1983, Tar Creek was one of the first sites to be added to the superfund list. In 1987 the EPA started monitoring water in the area. However very little was done to help the people in the community until after a test in 1996 showed that 30% of the children under the age of six living in the area had elevated blood levels of lead.
Between 1996- 1998 the EPA cleaned up 1,542 lead-contaminated residential yards. This sounds like a lot but around 75 million tons of chat remained on the surface and acidic flotation ponds covered approximately 800 acres. After hearing those numbers the 1,542 yards doesn’t sound like much.
That gets us to the buyouts that have lead to Tar Creek being the ghost towns it is now. But the fight isn’t over, some of the citizens are now suing over how the buyouts were handled. The people that lived there will also have to live with the health effects of all the lead.
This is just a very short summary of Tar Creek, this is a long and important story.This story is one best told by those who have lived it.Oklahoma native Matt Myers shows us the story of these towns and people. The film is an in depth look at how the mining effected this town for years to come.
The film shows the town of Picher as it goes through the buyouts, as well as the history of the town and how it got started with the Quapaw Indians.
It’s a must see film that will hopefully help remind us that our actions can effect the next generations. As the ancient Indian proverb says “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”