By Greg Grisolano
MIAMI, Okla. — Members of the Harvard School of Public Health are in Miami sampling homes and soil for heavy-metal contamination that may have been left behind by flooding earlier this month.
“We have brought in some top-notch scientists to find out if there is a problem,” said Earl Hatley, a designated Grand Riverkeeper and a member of Local Environmental Action Demanded, a nonprofit environmental group.
“We brought in $100,000 worth of equipment and some of these scientists to answer these questions for the community.”
The scientists are collecting dust and soil samples from homes and yards. They are looking for a full range of heavy metals, byproducts of runoff from chat piles and other mine wastes that cover much of the landscape in Northeast Oklahoma. Of particular concern will be lead, zinc, cadmium and manganese.
“Tar Creek itself drains heavy metals into the Neosho River, so when it floods, it is reasonable to suspect the metals go out in the flooded areas,” Hatley said.
More than 600 homes in Miami and 100 outside the city limits were damaged or destroyed when the Neosho River pushed out of its banks in the first week of this month.
Jim Shine, associate professor of aquatic chemistry at the Harvard School of Public Health, is coordinating the Miami effort, which is part of a larger study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Health Sciences.
“We’re going north and south,” Shine said. “We’ve even been past the 22nd Street bridge, so we’ve been up past where there’s no evidence of flooding. We take sediment profiles and surface soil samples moving away from the creek. By measuring the concentrations (of the metals) we can determine where it came from.”
Shine said the flood provides an opportunity to see how disasters are affecting the spread of hazardous mine waste from the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
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