Sale of mine waste cleared for Okla. Tribe
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Paving the way for members of the Quapaw Tribe to benefit financially, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has lifted a ban on the sale of mine waste from a Superfund site in northeastern Oklahoma.

In an order signed on Monday, the BIA agreed to lift a four-year moratorium on the waste. Tribal officials had protested restrictions the BIA imposed even though the Environmental Protection Agency and the state allowed non-Indians to sell what is known as chat.

The decision allows as many as 110 individual Indian owners, mostly from the Quapaw Tribe, to move forward with selling chat. Although chat contains lead and is dangerous to children and adults, it can be used safely to pave driveways and for other industrial purposes.

Besides providing financial opportunity, which aren't exactly known since the market for the waste varies, the lifting of the moratorium benefits in reducing the large amount of chat that exists on Indian-owned land. The waste is left over from historical lead and zinc ore mining in the region.

The amount of waste -- about 75 million tons -- pushed the EPA in 1983 to declare the region a Superfund site, known as Tar Creek. The site covers 40 square miles of land, 80 percent of which is tribally owned.

The designation allows federal monies to be used to clean up the site. But cleanup has been halted because the state of Oklahoma has failed to provide matching funds.

The suspension, however, does not affect Indian-owned sites. Last week, the EPA held public hearings on the removal of waste from 107 Indian properties.

About 500 to 600 non-Indian locations still need cleanup, according to regional EPA estimates. The Tar Creek site extends into parts of southeastern Kansas and northeastern Missouri.

Children living in the region have shown higher than acceptable levels of zinc and lead in their blood. Poisoning can lead to adverse effects in almost every part of the body, including the blood, nervous, kidney and immune system.

Lead can also damage the reproductive system in women. Pregnant women are at risk for aborted fetuses and serious health problems in infants.

Acting Assistant Secretary Jim McDivitt signed Monday's order to lift the ban. Any sales of chat will follow state and federal guidelines, he said.

"It seems to be a good situation for all," he added in a statement released by the BIA yesterday.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb is currently traveling on official BIA business this week. On Thursday, he will go to the Chichiltah School south of Gallup, New Mexico, to connect the final group of BIA schools to the Internet.

Relevant Links:
Tar Creek Site -
Superfund, EPA -

Related Stories:
Cleanup of Quapaw land discussed (8/17)
Tribe, lawmakers tour Superfund site (5/30)
Tribe wants BIA ban on waste lifted (4/25)
Oklahoma tribes investigate water (12/6)

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