Quapaw Tribe asks for cleanup of Indian land

By Sheila Stogsdill

Special to the Globe

QUAPAW, Okla. - The Quapaw Tribe filed a lawsuit this week against seven mining companies, claiming the companies are responsible for the pollution of Indian land in Northeast Oklahoma.

The tribe filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tulsa against Asarco Inc., Blue Tee Corp., Childress Royalty Company Inc., The Doe Run Resources Corp., Eagle-Picher Industries Inc., Gold Fields Mining Corp., and NL Industries.

Plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit are: Quapaw Business Committee Chairman John Berrey, Colleen Wilson Austin, Edwina Faye Busby, Reberta Hallam Kyser, Florence Mathews, Ardina Revard Moore, Jean An Lambert and Edward Rodgers.

Jason Aamodt, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit will ask for property damages and money to restore the 40-square-mile area, known as Tar Creek, back to its natural resources.

Aamodt said the residents' health issues are being addressed in a class-action suit filed against the mining companies earlier this summer by residents of the Picher-Cardin area, and the city of Picher, the Picher Housing Authority and the Picher School District.

In addition to the class-action lawsuit, nine families have filed lawsuits against the mining companies after health problems associated with lead contamination surfaced in their children.

"We want Tar Creek cleaned up," Berrey said. "We want the environment and the health of residents living in Quapaw to improve."

Berrey said he didn't know how much it would cost to clean up Tar Creek, but said the mining companies have assets in excess of $10 billion.

Tar Creek was considered the lead and zinc mining capital of the nation from the late 1880s to 1960. The Tar Creek area consists of Picher, Cardin, Quapaw, Commerce and North Miami and has held the distinction of being the top Superfund site of the Environmental Protection Agency.

During the mining era, tribal members leased land to the mining companies and received royalty payments for its use. The mining companies left behind lead contamination in the soil and large piles of mine tailings, or chat, which are also contaminated.

More than $100 million has been spent in the past 20 years to clean up the Tar Creek site. The area is still covered with up to 75 million tons of lead-tainted mine tailings, acres of sludge ponds, open mineshafts and polluted creeks.

The Quapaw tribal members own 70 percent of the area's chat piles on the land allotted to their families. The tribe itself only owns a small portion of the chat.

The defendant mining companies have denied any wrongdoing, claiming they lawfully conducted business.

U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, D-Claremore, has proposed voluntary buyouts of residents living in Picher and Cardin.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is proposing a $45 million cleanup plan led by the University of Oklahoma.

This Week's Circulars