Reading the book got me in the mood for the venture to Bonne Terre and provided appropriate questions to ask upon arrival about the history of the mine and their experience as a superfund site. The guide denied any need for a strike at their mine, as the miners were paid living wages. Garrett Couch, a resident of Bonne Terre had told me about the mine last summer and how perplexed he was that “buy-out” was never an option for their city built on top of their mine, with much of the city undermined as Picher and Cardin had been.
As we entered we saw what our miners might have seen when they arrived to work. We experienced the wonder of the space, the moisture of a deep lead mine whose upper level is used for tours while lower levels are flooded with clear water used by scuba divers. Even Jacques Cousteau spent 5 days there exploring. Lead was found not too far below the surface in the town, but several things were different than the mining in our Tri-State District. In Bonne Terre, had a fellow running the mine, who wanted to live there. What we saw beneath the surface were the random pillars in the mined caverns, but they were in their traditional shapes, not carved and chiseled to create subsidence risk. We also learned the wages provided a living for the miners, well enough they were able to purchase livable homes in their town just above the lead mine they hollowed out beneath.
At this mine, they walked in and they walked out to their main street. But it was still a lead mine and much like us, became a superfund site. Their home's yards were contaminated with lead and remediated like many of ours have been and still need to be. But their town is undermined, a town of 7,000 people. Buyout didn't come up as an option for them because no study was done to predict the subsidence risk, so cleanup happened and the chat they had in yards and playgrounds became a huge mound right in town that grass doesn't thrive on, but a cover of rocks, clay and some soil cover it all. It is a chat pile you cannot miss made of the waste from their mine.
My face felt wet like a mist that forms slowly on a windshield. The miners would have had hard hats and would not have felt the drips coming from the roof of the mine that we felt hit our uncovered heads suddenly as the rain water filtered through that stone ceiling above us.
As we walked through the man-made caverns their work was evident everywhere, shovels left leaning here and there. But up high in the rooms scaffolding was left strapped near the roof and guy wires pounded to the pillars for miners to work. They would have heard the sound of the attack made by man to the earth, the very structure of the earth beneath their homes.
We always heard of the random pillar technique used in the Tri-state district mining field. But at Bonne Terre, we saw the pillars are big like legs of monster elephants, but they were much closer together than I imagined, as if they cared about the land above their heads, or the company cared about the men's lives below. We felt small in those rooms we wandered through and felt sensations of true awe to see the earth's ribs showing all around us. Local mining lore tells when a new “room” was blasted open and light hit it, the newly exposed faces of the minerals and metals shone like a fairyland. Our guide had heard about the Tri-State District and Picher’s mines and the unique specimens of metals and minerals which have ended up on display in museums around the country.
Honorable hard working men spent their youth and their health in those mines and in our local mines. When our mines played out, many moved on to factory labor with the BF Goodrich Tire plant in Miami. They labored there and were followed by their sons who carried on that tradition just as sons had followed fathers to the mines. Today many may live in the neighborhood near the abandoned plant and see it in ruins and live with fear of the benzene that lies beneath and the asbestos that has been left behind in the deep and in the power house might still find ways to harm their health.
Bonne Terre is proof a superfund site could be cleaned up. Ours will take longer because of its size.
BF Goodrich isn’t a superfund site but it's a mess that needs a cleanup that is long overdue. Say it like you mean it, make it Bonne Terre, Good soil.