On the way back from the interview at KOAM-TV, my team and I stopped in Picher, Oklahoma to get a closer look at the devastation. For those that are not familiar, Picher is a ghost town thanks to over a century of unrestricted subsurface excavation. These excavations compromised the integrity of the town's buildings and left piles of mine tailings, the leftover materials after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore (also known as chat).
I had never seen the chat "piles" in person myself and was expecting something the size of a small building or shed but I couldn't have been more wrong. They were more like large hills or small mountains of toxic waste, and after years of work to remove the chat piles, I can only imagine how tall they once stood.
The most starling moment of our trip was seeing an entire neighborhood that was deserted. There were no windows or doors. The outside walls were spray painted with warnings to "keep out." It looked like the scene of a movie about a nuclear disaster. Every step we took was careful and planned because one of the most dangerous problems in the area is hidden by the ground.
Empty mines present an immediate danger due to mine collapses. One collapse in 1967 took nine homes. I cannot help but feel disappointed and disheartened in those that are responsible for this tragedy and angered by the politicians like my opponent who have stonewalled efforts by the EPA to make this right.
What’s worse is this land was given to the Quapaw tribe after their forced removal from Arkansas. The government allowed mining companies to come in and steal resources from the tribe, and leave them and the people in this corner of Oklahoma with toxic mountains of chat and undrinkable water and a legacy of children suffering the lifelong effects of lead poisoning with no hope for recovery.
The once bustling little towns are now empty. No more townspeople gossiping in the local cafe. No more children laughing and playing on the playgrounds. Along the highway there was a sign that read "Be Bold. Be Proud.” Desecrated land and destroyed communities are not something to be proud of…but we can still choose to be bold and stand up against the corporations and the politicians who allowed this to happen and are hindering our recovery. We can be proud of the people who are fighting in these communities to make it right. Will you stand with me in this fight?
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