Residents of Picher, Oklahoma, must leave the town contaminated by lead and zinc mines. Although contaminated since the 1970s, only recent threats of cave-ins have convinced hold-outs to leave.
"The culprits of Picher's demise are the same lead and zinc mines that brought the town its prosperity and boosted its population to a high of 16,000 before World War II. But the mines were shut down in the 1970s, and all that is left in and around Picher are about 1,000 people and giant gray piles of mining waste, known locally as 'chat,' some hundreds of feet tall and acres wide, that loom over abandoned storefronts and empty lots."
"The piles are loaded with heavy metals that have contaminated the air and the groundwater and placed the northeastern Oklahoma town in the middle of the Tar Creek Superfund Site, the largest and one of the most polluted in the country."
"The federal buyout of residents is being done in two phases because only about $20 million of the estimated $40 million to $50 million needed to complete the project has been appropriated. Residents whose properties are at risk of caving in, along with the elderly, the disabled and businesses, are in Phase 1. They can expect official offers from the government as soon as Feb. 1. Officials with the trust established to conduct the buyout hope that Phase 2 can begin in the fall of 2007 if the Oklahoma congressional delegation can quickly secure the rest of the funding."