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Picher, Oklahoma (22355.3, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS).jpg

Area History.

Learn about the history of mining and environmental justice in the Ottawa County area. Check back often as we will continue to add more information as it is verified for accuracy. 

A mining town knows all too well that the mining costs go on.

And you never see the final bill till the mining company's gone.

The things the miners left behind tell a tale we won't forget.

A few may profit from the mines, but many pay the debt.

Made to Last written by the EPA's Bill Honker about Picher, Oklahoma 



LEAD Agency releases the Tar Creek floodplain map to the public, warning of health risks from direct contamination and flooding, which threatens to bring toxic waste straight to residents’ backyards. The Tar Creek Conference continues to bring together scientists, tribal leaders, government agencies, and local residents to discuss environmental issues.


Martin Lively becomes the new Grand Riverkeeper


LEAD Agency partners with the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange to create a GIS map of the Tar Creek floodplain, revealing the extent of contamination from toxic mining waste.


Rebecca and Earl are individually honored with the Terry Backer award at the Waterkeeper Alliance annual conference


Rebecca becomes the official Tar Creekkeeper with Waterkeeper Alliance


Final buyouts completed. 842 offers are given, mostly for residential properties despite objections from residents.


Picher struck by EF4 tornado, resulting in the deaths of 7, injuring 150, and destroying more than 100 homes


First buyout begins. With growing awareness around the health implications at the Superfund site, Governor Brad Henry announces a $5 million buyout plan for families with children younger than 6. Inhofe opposes the buyout.


Earl Hatley becomes first Grand Riverkeeper with The Waterkeeper Alliance.


The first Tar Creek Conference is held by the LEAD Agency, bringing together scientists, tribal leaders, government agencies, and local residents to discuss environmental issues.


The Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD) Agency is founded by Rebecca Jim and Earl Hatley to address environmental contamination in the region


Lead studies. Government researchers estimate that approximately 34 percent of Quapaw children have concentrations of lead in their blood exceeding 10 μg/dL, the “level of concern” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time.


Superfund designation. The EPA forms an initial Superfund National Priorities List and includes Tar Creek.


Dire signs of pollution. Acid mine water begins to discharge from the mine workings through bore holes, mine shafts, and air vents and enter Tar Creek. At EPA meeting in Picher, Ok George Mayer complains about mine discharge on property in Commerce. Horses stained with orange.


Rebecca Jim enters the Tar Creek area to work to work as Indian Counselor for Miami Public Schools


Mining operations cease. After decades of declining production, the last mine operators leave. Groundwater reenters the mines, becoming acidic and laced with heavy metals


Peak production. More than $1 billion of ore is produced at Tar Creek in the first half of the 20th century.


Picher is founded as a mining town, home to the world's largest lead and zinc mines.


First mining camp at Tar Creek established as prospectors begin to strike rich ore deposits, Quapaws lease land to mining companies, Peoria Tribe establishes a reservation in Ottawa County.


Lead and zinc deposits found in the area, leading to the boom of mining operations.

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