Mining Cleanup Efforts Focus on Waterways

September 30, 2015


The decades-long cleanup effort in the Tri-State Mining District in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma has recently begun to shift to watersheds that were affected by mining. At the 17th National Environmental Tar Creek Conference in Miami, Oklahoma, speakers noted that the emphasis on cleanup efforts was shifting to water.


One speaker at the conference talked about the release of three million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River in Colorado from the Gold King Mine earlier this year. Three million gallons of water flow through the Tar Creek region every three days.


Chat is a gravel byproduct of the mining of lead and zinc ore. So far, 2.5 million tons of mining wastes have been removed from the surface of the land. Workers have reclaimed 588 acres that were covered by 33 chat piles and 74 chat bases.


As the cleanup has progressed, mining wastes that had polluted rivers and streams have begun to disappear. Over 4,000 acres of mining wastes have been cleared so far. Those areas had to be cleared first to avoid recontaminating waterways.


Rivers and streams are being analyzed to find where sediments are contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead, zinc, and cadmium. The Environmental Protection Agency is developing a plan to remove the contaminants without creating an impact downstream. The scope of the work could be large.


The Quapaw tribe was the first to reach an agreement with the federal government that allowed the tribe to manage the cleanup of mining sites on its lands. About 108,000 tons of waste were removed from the Catholic 40 site in 2013. A structure was discovered under the chat that is being preserved for historical purposes. In 2014, 83,000 tons of waste were removed from site Distal 6A. Cleanup efforts are now focusing on Beaver Creek. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental quality plans to focus on sites where metal loading is occurring in waterways.