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Oklahoma Water Science Center

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Photographs of the Picher Mining District/Tar Creek Superfund Site (Ottawa County, Oklahoma)

The Picher Mining District (fig. 1), occupying 40 square miles of northern Ottawa County, Oklahoma, was a primary source of lead and zinc to the U.S. from the early 1900's to the 1940's and is the largest superfund site in the U.S. Millions of cubic yards of mine tailings (locally known as "chat") remain in the area. Although processed to remove metals, the chat is composed of chert, dolomite, calcite, and residual oxides and sulfides of iron, zinc, manganese, lead, cadmium, and other metals. Some chat has been gradually removed from the area for use as gravel, concrete aggregate, and asphalt pavement. Local residents have elevated blood lead levels and rates of kidney disease appear to be elevated. Much of the area does not support vegetation, leading to suspension of fine sediment particles by winds. Iron-staining of vegetation along local streams is notable.

Location of the Pitcher mining District

Boulder Of cherty dolomite

Boulder of cherty dolomite from the Boone Chert of Mississippian age--the host rock for the ores.

Sustantials amounts of concrete remain in the area

Substantial amounts of concrete structures remain in the area, the concrete being made with chat.

Drainageway from chat piles to nearby wetland

Drainageway from chat piles to nearby wetland.

Concrete ore-seperation tank Near Commerce

Concrete ore-separation tank near Commerce.

Wetlands draining mined in areas south of Pitcher

Wetlands draining mined areas south of Picher. The water table is within a few feet of land surface in much of the District.

Pond in chat may be shallow depression

Pond in chat may be a shallow depression or may be underlain by an open mineshaft. Subsidence is common in the area.

Chat consists of boulders and fine particles

Chat commonly consists of boulders or fine particles ranging in size from small gravel to silt.

chat used for paved roads

Chat has been used as aggregate for paved and unpaved roads in the area and perhaps on roads as far away as St. Louis and Oklahoma City.

10 to 15 foot layer of chat

Although this may appear to be a small pile of chat overlying a thin layer of chat, this 40-acre area near Picher is covered by a layer of chat 10-15 ft thick.

Surficial portions of chat piles can become lifted

Surficial portions of chat piles are generally friable, but internal portions of the piles commonly become lithified.

landscape can resemble moonscape

Aside from scattered grasses and stunted trees, many parts of the area resemble a moonscape.

Nestled among the chat piles is a baseball field

Nestled amongst these chat piles is a baseball field.

Another view of baseball field near Pitcher OK

Another view of baseball field near Picher.

An old picnic site at the foot of a chat pile

An old picnic site at the foot of a large chat pile.

The Pitcher mining District  was known as "The Hay Capital of the World"

The Picher mining district was known as "The Hay Capital of the World" prior to mining.

Related WWW pages

Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, USGS Abandoned Mine Lands
Office of Surface Mining
Oklahoma Department of Mines, Minerals mined in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Information on Governor's Tar Creek Task Force (2000)

USGS Home Water Climate Change Core Science Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Env. Health Hazards

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