The Tragedy Of Tar Creek

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PHOTOGRAPHS FOR TIME BY STEVE LISS

LEAD'S LEGACY: Who is going to pay to remove these poison mountains?

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At Tar Creek, many residents have given up hope. Even the EPA, which has spent $107 million at the site, isn't sure if it can ever be repaired. "We don't have an off-the-shelf remedy," says EPA Superfund official Randy Deitz. "What do you do with the enormous chat piles? When does cleanup become impracticable? We have limited resources." In a show of no-confidence, the Oklahoma legislature last week passed a $5 million buyout for all families with children under 6. John Sparkman, who heads the Tar Creek Steering Committee, a group of buyout supporters, veers between cynicism and despair. "They think we're poor white trash," he says bitterly, driving past Picher's boarded-up storefronts. "The votes here don't affect any federal election — so why bother? We've agitated till we can't agitate anymore." Meanwhile, at Tar Creek, the toxic dust keeps blowing in the wind.
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