The Tragedy Of Tar Creek

Superfund was created to ensure that America's toxic-waste dumps got cleaned up. An inside look at one of its failures

To get a better view of the situation, John Sparkman guns his flame-red truck up a massive pile of gravel. From the summit, a lifeless brown wasteland stretches to the horizon, like a scene from a science-fiction movie. Mountains of mine tailings, some as tall as 13-story buildings, others as wide as four football fields, loom over streets, homes, churches and schools. Dust, laced with lead, cadmium and other poisonous metals, blows off the man-made hills and 800 acres of dry settling ponds. "It gets in your teeth," says Sparkman, head of a local citizens' group. "It cakes in your ears...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!