EPA Moves One Town, Wont Help Their Neighbor


The towns of Treece, Kansas and Picher, Oklahoma, separated by a gravel road may as well be the same town. They once shared many things that people living in the same town do: employers, public services, social outlets, even gas stations and stores. However, this was during the hey-day of ore mining for both world wars, where it is estimated $20 billion worth of minerals like lead, zinc, and iron were dug up to be converted into weaponry.

Now the two towns are, for lack of a better term, dead zones where mounds of industrial waste blow in the wind. Mountains of soil laced with minerals linked to cancers and lung ailments tower above the homes. Though they shared much, they were also divided by a state line. Those in Treece, Kansas feel that they were given the short end of the stick because of this. This is because the Environmental Protection Agency decided to buy out and move the residents of Picher. The residents of Treece, those who are left, are sitting atop what is described as a toxic waste dump. Unlike their Oklahoman neighbors, the government refuses to buy them out or move them. Obviously, Treece residents see this as colossally unfair. After all, those who were moved live just down the block. Why not them?

According to the EPA, the land where Treece is located simply needs its tainted soil rehabilitated. Kansas senator Pat Roberts likens this to “throwing a fancy rug over a hole in the ground.” Moving the people may cost $3.5 million, he says, but is more efficient than trying to remedy decades of environmental damage.

Add to the disparity a 1993 study of the children in Picher where it was found that 34 percent of those tested had toxic blood lead levels exceeding risk for nervous system and brain damage. There were never similar studies done on the children of Treece during this period. In fact the EPA did not begin testing air quality and blood lead levels until last week.

The EPA counters the residents are safe and that cleanup could take ten years; not much time for a massive environmental cleanup, but a lifetime to residents of Treece. Across the border in Picher, the government decided it was best to move the residents since cleaning up the waste would take decades and citizens would be at risk during the cleanup. So, they were all relocated, leaving the 140 remaining residents of what was once a thriving town virtually isolated from basic needs. While the homes in Picher will collapse onto themselves and the weeds and trees grow up around what was there, Treece will have to make do.