Assessing Contamination and Transport Pathways of Lead from the Tar Creek Superfund Site to Lands of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma (Dr. Jason Rech)

photo of Jason RechIn the early 1900s, the largest lead and zinc ore deposits in the US were found in northeastern Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, and western Missouri in what came to be known as the Tri-State Mining District. This region supplied most of the lead and zinc to the US until the mines slowed and then closed down during the 1960s and 1970s, leaving behind a swath of environmental waste over thousands of hectares.

The Tar Creek Superfund Site, situated just 10 km north of the headquarters of the Miami Tribe and 5 km east the tribal youth summer camp grounds, is the largest heavy-metal mining Superfund site location in the United States in terms of:

  • total area degraded
  • volume of mine tailings left behind
  • size of the population exposed

The mobilization of the mine tailings and exposed ore at the Tar Creek Superfund site, largely by wind, water, and humans, has allowed the contamination to spread throughout the area, causing a direct threat to local communities. Exposure to heavy metals associated with lead-zinc mining has been linked to kidney, neurologic, and vascular toxicity as well as mortality from hypertension and stroke.

Our research project funded through Global Health has 2 main objectives:

  1. Conduct a study of the lead concentrations and transport pathways in pecans, a key food source on Miami Tribal lands of Oklahoma, on the Geboe Lot which is home to the 'Eewansaapita' summer camp for children of the Miami Tribe.
  2. Strengthen ties and begin communication regarding a large-scale project with the Environmental and Health administrative branches of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.