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Important Site Documents



County: Ottawa
Site Type: Mining Activity
Area: 40 square miles / 25,600 acres
Township and Range: Section 16-21 and 29-32, Township 29 North, Range 24 East; Section 5-6, Township 28 North, Range 24 East; Section 5-8, 18-19, and 30, Township 28 North, Range 23 East; Section 13-36, Township 29 North, Range 23 East; Section 1, 12-13, 24-25, and 30, Township 28 North, Range 22 East; Section 24, 25, and 36, Township 29 North, Range 22 East
Latitude: 36.98591483
Longitude: -94.82934508
National Priorities List: Final Listing Date - September 8, 1983
Cleanup Oversight Agencies: USGS, DEQ, the Quapaw Tribe
Lead Agencies: EPA, DEQ and the Quapaw Tribe
Office: DEQ, Land Protection Division, (405) 702-5100
DEQ Site Project Manager:Dustin Davidson, (405) 702-5115, Brian Stanila (405) 702-5138
DEQ Press Contact: Erin Hatfield, (405) 702-7119
Current Status: Cleanup underway

Tar Creek chat pile

Weathered Chat Pile at the Tar Creek Superfund Site - Ottawa County, Oklahoma

March 2009

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Regulatory Profile: Deed notices have been filed on all Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Act Trust purchased properties and the OU2 repository.  To obtain copies of deed notices visit

• Sources of Contamination: Lead and zinc ore, mining, milling and smelting activities

• Contaminants of Concern: Lead, cadmium, and zinc

• Groundwater Impacted: Boone & Roubidoux Aquifers (Near Picher and Quapaw)

• Surface Water Impacted: Tar Creek, Neosho River, Spring River and Grand Lake

Site History & Background: The Tar Creek Superfund Site is part of the Tri-State Mining District, which includes northeastern Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, and southwestern Missouri. The Tar Creek area encompasses the Oklahoma portion of the Tri-State Mining District, where lead and zinc were mined and milled from about 1900 to the 1960’s. When mining ceased, huge volumes of mining waste, including chat and mill tailings, were left on the surface. Mining and milling produced more than 500 million tons of wastes in the Tri-State area. These wastes contain elevated concentrations of lead and zinc and contributed to elevated blood lead concentrations in as high as 43% of children in some communities. Approximately 300 miles of underground mine tunnels underlie the Oklahoma portion of the District. More than 1,320 mine shafts and thousands of exploratory boreholes, air vents were abandoned. Since mining ceased, subsidence has occurred in several areas due both to roof collapse and erosion of mine shafts. As the mines filled with water acidic mine water was generated that severely impacted the Boone aquifer. In 1979 acid mine water began flowing into surface waters, severely impacting surface water quality. Contaminants sometimes leach from waste sources and migrate to surface waters that are used for recreational uses. Site Concerns: Waste in the form of large chat and tailing piles, contaminated soils, surface and ground water, are a source of exposure to the citizens of the Tri-State area. Children are the most sensitive population for lead and heavy metal exposures. Prior to yard cleanups, a percentage of young children living within the five-city mining area were known to have very high blood lead levels, above the standard set by the Center for Disease Control. Residential properties being cleaned up and education efforts have resulted in blood lead levels in the children being reduced significantly. DEQ continues to work with the Oklahoma Department of Health on this issue.

Cleanup History: Tar Creek was added to the National Priorities (Superfund) list in 1983. Various attempts to deal with the surface water contamination were made in the 80s and 90s. In 2000, Governor Frank Keating commissioned a study to develop a comprehensive remediation plan for the area. In 2002, DEQ studied metals concentrations in fish from waters impacted by the Tri-State Mining District, including Tar Creek. Fish consumption advisories were issued as a result.

In 2005, the State of Oklahoma, under the Oklahoma Plan, began cleaning up some contaminated areas and restored 329 acres of land to beneficial use. In 2006, the State of Oklahoma passed legislation that allowed for the voluntary buyout of citizens with children in the area. In 2010, EPA began the implementation of the Operable Unit 4 Record of Decision work that involves remediating properties to allow for beneficial reuse and voluntary buyout of citizens of the Relocation Assistance Zone.

Chat has been sold for road building material and other uses but 30 million tons of chat remain in the Tar Creek area. The University of Oklahoma’s department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science has undertaken a project to bioremediate ground water from abandoned mines. This treatment process uses a series of ponds to naturally remove lead, zinc, cadmium and iron from the water, and then discharges it into a tributary of Tar Creek. DEQ, EPA, and the Quapaw Tribe continuously works with local communities, public and private organizations within the Tri-State area, to monitor the effects of remaining mine wastes and implement projects that promote better land, water and air quality.

Work Completed:

Operable Unit 1: Surface Water/Ground water: DEQ has completed 11 years of ground water monitoring, worked with water systems to install drinking water wells, and plugged abandoned wells to protect the drinking water aquifer.

Operable Unit 2: Residential Properties: EPA and the City of Commerce have tested and remediated yards, alley ways, and public areas throughout the site. Between 1996 and 2014 EPA remediated over 2,900 residential properties.

Operable Unit 3: Drum removal in Cardin: This operable unit has been completed.

Operable Unit 4: Chat Piles, Other Mine and Mill Wastes, Smelter Wastes Status: Cleanup has been completed on some distal area projects. Voluntary buyout of citizens within the Relocation Assistance Zone has been completed. Between 2006 and 2010, approximately 530 were bought out by the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust. Bought-out properties included homes, lots, and buildings owned by both residents and business owners. Ownership of these properties was transferred to the Trust for demolition of structures during the buyout. The last structure was demolished in October 2014.

Cleanup Status:

Operable Unit 1: Surface Water/Ground water Status: 5th five-year review underway; DEQ is currently plugging abandoned wells.

Operable Unit 2: Residential Properties Status: Community health education and blood lead screening continues; properties not previously sampled and/or cleaned up can contact DEQ for assistance.

Operable Unit 3: Drum removal in Cardin Status: Complete

Operable Unit 4: Chat Piles, Other Mine and Mill Wastes, Smelter Wastes Status: Cleanup of several distal areas where chat is located have been completed. This work will continue for many years.

Operable Unit 5: Sediment & Surface Water Status: EPA is currently planning work to model sediment concentration and flow of the Spring River to determine the possible cleanup methods that may be used to remove contaminated sediments. Did You Know? The lead and zinc produced at Tar Creek was used to make bullets during both World Wars.

Did You Know? The lead and zinc produced at Tar Creek was used to make bullets during both World Wars.