Bush cutting cleanup funds for Okla. site
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The Bush administration is cutting cleanup funds for one of the worst toxic waste sites in the nation, according to a document made public on Monday, an action affecting members of an Oklahoma tribe.

Regional Environmental Protection Agency officials wanted $5 million for Tar Creek, an area in northeastern Oklahoma where historic mining contaminated Quapaw land. High levels of lead and other chemicals still remain, threatening the health and welfare of the tribe.

But according to an internal report released by House Democrats critical of President Bush's environmental record, no money will be provided for Tar Creek this year. "The Inspector General's report confirms my deepest fears that the Bush administration refuses to fund the necessary cleanup of toxic sites around the nation," said Rep. Frank Pallone (R-N.J.), a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus, yesterday.

EPA Chief Christie Whitman had earlier warned of cuts to Superfund, the government's cleanup program that is slowly running out of money due in part to inaction by Congress to renew taxes that force polluters to bear the cost of cleanup. But the Bush administration also opposes the tax, threatening funding in future years.

That leaves Tar Creek, where $100 million has already been spent since its addition to the Superfund list in 1983, with 74 million tons of waste from historic mining throughout the 1900s. After going bankrupt in the 1960s, companies abandoned the area without cleaning up the mess.

As a result, Quapaw tribal members today deal with lead contamination, abandoned mine shafts, moldy homes and huge piles of a waste byproduct known as "chat" in their backyards that can be seen in aerial photographs. Of the 40 square miles of the Superfund site, 80 percent is Indian-owned.

Risks from the leftover waste are high and can contribute to developmental, blood, kidney and other problems. Children in the region have higher than acceptable levels of zinc and lead in their blood, according to the Indian Health Service.

The piles of chat can be removed due to a moratorium the Bureau of Indian Affairs removed on the sale of the waste, which contains lead and is dangerous to children and adults if left alone. More than 100 individual Quapaw land holders were affected by a 2001 decision to lift the ban.

Despite the action, a full cleanup could cost an additional $70 million, according to EPA estimates. The state was warned last year that funds for non-Indian lands would be cut and Gov. Frank Keating (R) in recent months has threatened to sue the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- which is now headed by a former member of his Cabinet, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb -- and the U.S. Geological Survey.

A proposal to relocate affected landowners and restore the area to a wetlands is being circulated. Estimates for this project run as high as $250 million.

Nationwide, Superfund sites are short $227.9 million, according to the EPA report. During an appearance to promote the Bush administration's clean air initiative, Whitman said some of the information was incorrect but didn't provide details.

Relevant Documents:
Affected Sites | EPA Report

Relevant Links:
Tar Creek Information Site -
Tar Creek, State of Oklahoma -
Tar Creek Site, EPA -

Related Stories:
Tar Creek mold confirmed (4/23)
Head of EPA urged to visit Okla. site (9/11)
BIA aiding cleanup of Okla. site (9/7)
End of mine waste moratorium praised (8/30)
Sale of mine waste cleared for Okla. Tribe (8/22)

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