PICHER, Okla. —Mining waste from the Tar Creek Superfund site in northeastern Oklahoma will be used on highways in Kansas.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the so-called chat will used on highways in Kansas because that state has less restrictive limits than Oklahoma on lead and zinc levels in the material.
The plan is key to the cleanup strategy. More than $35 million in federal stimulus money will go to the Tar Creek area, where mining decimated part of northeast Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and Kansas.
"I'm comfortable they have done enough science to see that it's safe," said Gary Blackburn, director of the Kansas Bureau of Environmental Remediation.
Chat contains high levels of cadmium, zinc and lead. Lead is especially dangerous in children because it can reduce intelligence, Harvard University studies show.
But studies show that chat encapsulated in hot mix asphalt or Portland cement concrete encloses the dust. That makes it safe when used as a highway material, Leslie Rauscher, Region 6 Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
As roadways containing asphalt mixed with chat wear down, the Environmental Protection Agency will ensure safety with periodic inspections to see that federal regulations were followed, EPA staffers said.
Chat has been used around residents' households and sold by private parties for years, said Rebecca Jim, executive director of the Local Environmental Action Demanded Agency. The Quapaw Tribe, an area landowner, will begin selling it to contractors to mix with asphalt.
The 40-square-mile mining area is populated by mountains of white chat, mine cave-ins and a small number of townspeople. An estimated 30 years remain for complete cleanup, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The chat's toxicity, along with the sinkholes, is why the government moved people out of the area.
Gov. Brad Henry said the state has spent $10.5 million on relocation. More state money likely will be spent because Oklahoma must match part of the federal funds spent on Tar Creek, said a state Department of Environmental Quality spokesman.
"I don't think anyone could have predicted all the twists and turns this process would take as it moved from a state to a federal relocation program, but the good news is we are nearing the end of the effort with the help of the stimulus dollars," Henry said in a statement.