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The Tar Creek Mine Environmental Disaster

2845 words - 11 pages

The tar creek mining site originally was owned by a Native American tribe, the Quapaw. The Quapaw wanted to keep these lands, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs deemed members opposing a transaction to mining companies “incompetent” (1). In such a case the business could continue and the Bureau of Indian Affairs sold the lands to mining companies. In essence these lands were stolen from the Quapaw because they were ripe for mining. These mines were then used from approximately 1891 to 1970. In the 79 years the mines were open 1.7 million metric tons (~3.75 billion pounds) of lead and 8.8 million metric tons (~19.4 billion pounds) of zinc were withdrawn from the mine (2). The entire area around Tar Creek is known as the tri-state mining area. This tri-state area was a massive source of metals. This area accounted for 35% of the all worldwide metal for a decade. It also provided the majority of metals the United States used in World wars I and II (3).
Throughout this mining process a byproduct is created called chat. The chat is leftover rock and waste from mining that did not contained the desired materials. The chat was left on the site because the Bureau of Indian Affairs thought it could be of value to the Quapaw tribe (1). This chat contained high levels of toxic lead and other harmful chemicals. It is estimated that there are 75 Million tons (150 billion pounds) of chat piles remaining exposed to the environment as well as numerous flotation ponds that haven’t been taken into account (4).
The chat wasn’t the only lasting result of the mining; left in this corner of Oklahoma was also 300 miles of mining tunnels (5). These tunnels were created by a method known as room-and-pillar (1). Large rooms were mined to get access to the desired minerals and only pillars are left so the mine won’t collapse. In this case there is a large amount of empty volume underground, and with 300 miles of tunnels there is an extensive amount of exposed surface area in the tunnels. Once these mines were abandoned water slowly began to fill these mines. The water came in contact with all of the leftover minerals, including sulfide, and chemicals began to dissolve into the water. This process of dissolving chemicals into the water essentially turned the water into acid (1). Once the mines finally filled, water began to pour out of the mines into the surrounding area, mostly into a body of water now known as “Tar Creek” (1). This creek then spread the contaminated water throughout the community and into numerous water sources.
Tar creek was finally put on the National Priority List for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 as the highest ranking priority (6). The project was originally considered to only be a water contamination issue, but later high levels of blood lead were discovered. This area was deemed a superfund site, which was 40 square miles that contained five towns around the Tar Creek area (6). The estimated cost of this project ranges from $540...

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