My meager notes start out with a reference to a place on the north side of the BF Goodrich plant, where the deep soil should be sampled for the residue benzene that required an outside contractor to remove the floor after it gave way to deal with the line that must have been releasing those chemicals for years. The thing no one wanted to talk about was kept hushed. How many others are left who will tell the things that were not told? And why does it matter and why don't we ask now while we can? while there are still those who can retell those happenings.
After taking a breath, his words on his work history took us over to the Eagle-Picher laboratory and the kinds of acids sent down the drains there right before he turned us to Tar Creek, the mine workings with the limestone formation and the flow going straight to Tar Creek and ending up in our Grand Lake.
He remembered the hope that John Micka and others had had about adding fly ash and how it might be the answer to containing the metals from being released into the aquifer. But he found fly ash is loaded with arsenic when sampled and we know it certainly could contain mercury. What kind of mess might we have made worse? The hope lives on to find the "what" that will be done to fix that flawed flow Mr. Micka so wanted corrected for us.
And without even asking he took me to the Roubidoux. Is it protected? Have all of the deep wells used by the most profitable mines been closed properly? Workers were witness to the wrongs done here. The days are over. The bosses long gone. The time for loyalty is past.
Twenty-one years ago, LEAD Agency honored James Graves with one of our Mike Synar Environmental Excellence Awards for " leading the charge on ways to solve the problems with abandoned mine shafts."
It was during those years that James served as one of the Ottawa County Commissioners and had a long time involvement with what was known as the Picher Mining Museum.
Mining made a great impact on James. He told me about his father who had been a miner and had gotten sick with what was known locally as "Miner's Con"(Any of several lung diseases caused by inhalation of mineral particles or coal dust). He had gotten so sick that while he was sitting with him, his dad coughed up his own lung.
Much of the way Mr. Graves relates a story allows my brain to construct his story into pictures. That image of his time with his father truly sat with me and has been an image time has not diminished.
After all these years here he is offering the low-down on the questions we as a community long to have answered. We will listen to him. We will listen to any of our people longing to give these bits of truth to the puzzle solvers, the question askers, the justice seekers.
There is a great honor in receiving this type of trust. To be given the grains of truth that might lead to better cleanups. This county has been damaged and every bit of it deserves to be healed and made right.
It is not wrong to want this. It is right.
As the Stories on Tar Creek come in as our registered voters line up to sign the initiative petition for the Clean Water Ordinance so do their memories of otters and horseback rides, graduation parties and fishing, cornfields and more fishing. These pleasant moments may also jostle and reveal those what-elses lying there hidden as we strive as a community to seek a return to nature as it was given to us to enjoy and now to protect. We are finding our voices. We are hearing you.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim