Residents hope Nickles can bring 'unbiased perspective' to Superfund site problems

By Gary Garton

Globe Staff Writer

MIAMI, Okla. - A group of Ottawa County residents is to meet Friday with U.S. Sen. Don Nickles to ask for his help in sorting out plans for the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

"He is Oklahoma's senior senator, and is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and also serves on the Finance Committee," John Sparkman of Picher said Tuesday. "That should give him enough clout to get something done."

Sparkman noted that Nickles has announced he will not run for re-election this year. "He doesn't have any political axes to grind, so that should give him an unbiased perspective on our problems," Sparkman said.

Sparkman, chairman of the local Tar Creek Basin Steering Committee he formed four years ago, is also on the Picher school board and is director of the Picher Housing Authority.

Joining him Friday at Nickles' office in Tulsa will be Miami Mayor Brent Brassfield; Kim Pace, principal of Picher-Cardin Elementary School; Dr. Mark Osborn of Miami, local coordinator of a Harvard Medical School study on the effects of lead on pregnant women and infants; and Ed Keheley, a local resident with a background in engineering and environmental hazards.

Last Thursday, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Department of the Interior held a public hearing to explain a unified approach in studying and resolving environmental issues in the Superfund site.

At that meeting, Osborn was critical of what he called the agencies' "bureaucratic love fest," saying they are still pursuing separate paths that will not resolve all of the issues.

"The state and federal agencies that are supposed to be eliminating the health and safety hazards in the Tar Creek area are making a lot of noise about their new unified approach," Osborn said Tuesday. "They're still missing some of the most basic and necessary steps in actually doing something.

"The EPA, ODEQ and USACE (Corps of Engineers) have separate projects looking at the problems of chat, cave-ins, water and air pollution, and long-term remediation. The only problem is, there's nobody in charge - no one controlling authority that you can go to with a specific problem to get an answer from one of the other agencies.

"The EPA is supposed to be finding ways to eliminate the chat, but there has been no accurate study and no data on the effects of moving the chat on air pollution from dust, or how it will affect people living right there in the middle of the moving."

He also has been critical of the disease registry's "health danger evaluation," which he says is not funded sufficiently to provide an in-depth picture of the variety of dangers posed to area residents.

"I said it last week, and I will say it again: The federal and state agencies are going full steam ahead to find solutions when they don't even know the problems," Osborn said. "They're building a house without a foundation."

Sparkman, who was critical last week of U.S. Sen. James Inhofe's "Oklahoma Plan," which is the pattern being followed by state and federal agencies, repeated his concerns Tuesday.

"The Inhofe plan is doing pilot studies and tests for environmental remediation out on the fringes of the Tar Creek site," he said. "It is doing absolutely nothing for the children and elderly residents of Picher and Cardin who are being bombarded daily with lead from the soil, air and water."

Sparkman said he hopes Nickles will help local residents refocus Tar Creek efforts on the most immediate problems, and create some kind of clearinghouse for information, if not a governing authority to oversee the work.

"What the federal and state agencies have done is create a massive unified publicity campaign to try to appear to be accomplishing something," he said. "We need all that energy and time focused on really doing some good."

This Week's Circulars