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Earth News

EPA To Buy Small Town In Kansas 260

Ponca City, We love you writes "The Wichita Eagle reports that Congress has approved funds to relocate the population of the southeast Kansas town of Treece, which is plagued with lead, zinc and other chemical contamination left by a century of mining. Estimates say it will cost about $3 million to $3.5 million to buy out the town, which is surrounded by huge piles of mining waste called 'chat' and dotted with uncapped shafts and cave-ins filled with brackish, polluted water. 'It's been a long, dusty, chat-covered road, but for the citizens of Treece, finally, help will be on the way,' said Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas who has been pushing for a buyout of Treece for two years. The population of Treece has dwindled to about 100 people, almost all of whom want to move but say they can't because the pollution and an ongoing EPA cleanup project makes it impossible to sell a house. The EPA has already bought out the neighboring town of Picher, Oklahoma, stripping Treece of quick access to jobs, shopping, recreation and services, including fire protection and cable TV. Both cities were once prosperous mining communities but the ore ran out and the mines were abandoned by the early 1970s. Of 16 children tested for lead levels in Treece, two had levels between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood and one had a level of more than 10 times the threshold for lead poisoning."
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EPA To Buy Small Town In Kansas

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:19PM (#29927583)

    Where it will become a nature reserve.

    FHA is doing the financing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Really? New Jersey? Dude have you been there lately, place is clean as a whistle.

      Well, a whistle owned by a crack whore down on 53rd.

  • by Cornwallis ( 1188489 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:23PM (#29927635)

    Times Beach, Missouri.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:24PM (#29927649)

    ...didn't put a DOME around it, barring everyone in the town from the rest of the world!

    • by rainmaestro ( 996549 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:01PM (#29928129)

      A shame, I was looking forward to the commercials...

      Tom Hanks: [voiceover in TV ad] Are you tired of the same old Grand Canyon?
      TV Dad: [bored] Here we are kids. The Grand Canyon.
      TV Daughter: Oh, it's so old and boring! I want a new one, *now!*
      Tom Hanks: [appears from behind bush] Hello. I'm Tom Hanks. The US Government has lost its credibility, so it's borrowing some of mine.
      TV Son: Tussle my hair, Mr. Hanks!
      Tom Hanks: Sure thing, son.
      [laughs as he does so. Stars come out of the boy's hair. He then smiles in wonder]
      Tom Hanks: Now, I'm pleased to tell you about the new Grand Canyon.
      [shot changes to that of a smouldering crater]
      Tom Hanks: Coming this weekend! It's east of Shelbyville and south of Capital City.
      Marge Simpson: [watching ad] That's where Springfield is!
      Tom Hanks: It's nowhere near where anything is or ever was. This is Tom Hanks saying, if you're gonna pick a government to trust, why not this one?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:25PM (#29927669)

    In the end it's the tax payers and not the rich owners that end up paying for the clean ups. It's my main opposition to nuclear power not the reactors it's the clean up from both the mines and processing sites. It's true of most mineral based resources that they cut corners on extracting and processing and the people living around the places and tax payers generally suffer. It's long overdue that we end the corporate veil for this kind of abuse and bleed the ones that profited dry to pay for the mess. There's a whole town full of houses we can let them have cheap to live in.

    • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:31PM (#29927743)
      Once the mining companies go belly-up, it's hard to say where the money's gone and who is responsible, because many people were involved. One thing is for certian, we all benefitted from the lower priced minerals, and now we all have to pay to clean up the mess.
      • by niko9 ( 315647 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:40PM (#29927863)

        Don't forget that the majority of the mining was done to supply that war (WWII) effort. The US military used munitions in the *billions* of rounds, not to mention supplying the allies.

        Just Google "treece, kansasa war effort"

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:50PM (#29927983)

          And the government required they poison the locals?
          Was that to show those damn japs we meant business?

          The reality is these folks chose to do it that way so they could sell more product at lower prices thereby increasing their profit. We cannot go after them for breaking rules that did not exist, but we could require companies going out of business to restore land to salable levels. If they fail to do that, pierce the veil and take the owners money to do it.

      • Silver? (Score:2, Interesting)

        Silver is usually a useful byproduct of lead and zinc mining, It was an important side-product of the Cornish tin industry. The tailings of lead mines can contain significant silver.

        Nevertheless. there are regions which do no have the traces of the silver you might expect. The price of silver is not that great: it can dip below three times that of copper. If no-one is offering to rake through their tailings then either (a) they are waiting for a better price or (b) there is nothing there to be had. A si

      • I would say that it is the government's responsibility to regulate the industry and ensure this doesn't happen. Problem is when the rich guys that own the mining company basically buy the rich guys the run the government, well you can see what the eventual result is. It really is criminal.

        Problem is the rich owner, and the rich politician are long gone now. If they could be held responsible for their past actions, then something may happen. However I believe that is called accountability and that is indeed

      • by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet@got . n et> on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:11PM (#29928251) Journal

        During the 80s and 90s, a small consortium of businessmen, built cyanide leach ponds in the Nevada dessert. The purpose of these man-made lakes of poison, was to dump lowgrade gold ore into them, to leach out the gold.

        The minute they used up the pits, and extracted as much gold as they were able to, they pumped the money out of the companies, declared bankruptcy, abandoned to toxic disasters they created. In fact, looking at the many millions of dollars it will cost to remove the poison waste, clean up the landscape, and remediate the poisoned water table, it will cost tax payers many times what the mining company was able to extract from their business.

        From my point view, this was nothing more than an elaborate scam to convert our tax dollars into their personal assets (and a grossly inefficient method at that.) Add to that, the horrific environmental damage, and gross lack of conscience of those involved, and our current mining laws (virtually unchanged from the 1800s) are the perfect vehicle for destroying vast tracts of Federal Land (that should read as public lands, all our land.)

        Though most mining does produce resources vital to our society, we need to include the cost of safe and sane mining practices, and proper land reclamation in the bottom line of that business. Not to do so, is to invite more environmental disasters, and growing human cost.

        Just as an aside, recent analysis shows that the largest source of fresh water in the southwest (the Colorado River), is becoming increasingly polluted by toxic heavy metals from abandoned mines in the Rockies. The impact of this pollution will impact tens of millions of people, and could cost the U.S. and Mexico hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity, heath cost, and cleanup.

        • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @05:57PM (#29929359) Homepage

          From my point view, this was nothing more than an elaborate scam to convert our tax dollars into their personal assets (and a grossly inefficient method at that.)

          Not to worry: nowadays we have much more efficient methods to convert tax dollars into personal assets: no-bid military contracts, bank bailouts, tax breaks nestled into unrelated bills, and bridges to nowhere, to name a few.

      • by mikael ( 484 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:15PM (#29928315)

        Once mining companies (and property/land developers) realize that their is a risk that they might be sued in the future, they will create subsidiary companies that are legally responsible for the project. Once the project has been completed, the subsidiary company is liquidated along with any legal responsibilities. Either way, the owners will be absolved from any blame.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Once the mining companies go belly-up, it's hard to say where the money's gone and who is responsible

        A lot of jurisdictions have laws now that cover this. Mine, in Nova Scotia, Canada, requires a large bond to be placed by the mining company before the ground is even broken. The bond is sufficient to cover the costs of reclamation once mining is done. Thus, the public is guaranteed that reclamation will happen for any new mine, even if the company goes under. NB that reclamation and modern mining regulation

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The rich owners have been dead and gone for over 50 years. The mining that caused all this lead rich waste was done just after the turn of the century. There is a ton of wasteful spending in our gov't, but what lies around the cities of Picher and Treece is an environmental catastrophe of the worst kind that needs to be cleaned up. If you want to see for yourself, look it up on Google Earth. These cities are dwarfed by dunes of this mining waste (chat). Similar Superfund work in smaller projects are being

    • by Ingva ( 914360 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:08PM (#29928221)

      The clean up from Nuclear Reactors is actually the easy part. Typical amount of radioactive waste per year would fit in the back of a pickup truck. Almost all of it is being stored on site of the various power plants. Where to put that waste where it will be safe for 10,000 years of so is the difficult problem. In the end a coal plant puts out as much radioactive waste as a nuclear plant. It just dilutes it and spews it into the air. Nuclear is by far the least of all evils.

      • by R2.0 ( 532027 )

        "Where to put that waste where it will be safe for 10,000 years of so is the difficult problem."

        No, it's a political problem. The 10,000 year number is a red herring; if we were to reprocess and use the waste we wouldn't NEED to search for a way to keep the Eloi fat, dumb, and tasty.

    • Agreed. I guess it's a good thing most of the tax income is from businesses and people with money (top 10% pay 70% of taxes).
  • by aaandre ( 526056 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:26PM (#29927679)

    Corporations turn town into a toxic sludge dump.
    Taxpayers pay for people to relocate.

    => Free Money solves the pollution problem!

    By converting the planet's natural resources into limitless virtual symbols for value, we are approaching a point when we'll have to eat, breathe, and drink money.

    I think it may be time to reform money: []

    • Corporations turn town into a toxic sludge dump.
      Taxpayers pay for people to relocate.

      Are they relocating them to Hiroshima?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by digsbo ( 1292334 )
      Exactly. Wouldn't it be sensible for future municipalities to look at this and think twice before allowing an outside corporation to extract profit and turn their town toxic? That would help manage the environmental impact. Oh, wait, it would also require people to think things through. Unrealistic.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nomadic ( 141991 )
        Wouldn't it be sensible for future municipalities to look at this and think twice before allowing an outside corporation to extract profit and turn their town toxic? That would help manage the environmental impact. Oh, wait, it would also require people to think things through. Unrealistic.

        Municipalities typically have very little say as to controlling what goes on; most of that is state and federal law.
        • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:22PM (#29928385)
          That sounds like a strong argument for less centralization of government authority, and a return of decision-making power to localities and private citizens (who have a bigger voice in local government).
      • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @07:19PM (#29930099) Homepage

        What you are saying is pretty much that communities should disallow businesses to operate that might cause pollution. Because no matter how much a business says they aren't going to, once they do in the stealth of night, it is done. And then someone has to clean it up.

        So the obvious solution for a community - if they had control - is to disallow any business that has the potential to cause any sort of pollution of anything. So you block the dry cleaner because of PERC, the auto shop because of waste oil, refrigerant, spilled gasoline, etc. Then you need to block the small metal shop because of dangerous organic solvents and metal chips. Eventually, you have a perfectly safe community (like California is trying to achieve) without any commercial activity at all.

        They figured this out in about 1950 and today communities have no control. It is decided at the state and federal level, far far away from anyone that might be impacted.

        This is also why the manufacturing has moved out of the US and either across the border to Juarez or across the ocean to China. No matter what companies tried to do, they were getting blocked by lawsuits and stupid regulations. A stupid regulation is California's Prop 65 - all it is going to do is drive businesses across the state line. It will not force car dealers to eliminate the lead in the batteries or the oil from the cars. But by all means, keep passing these regulations and drive all those industries over somewhere else. We can all work for the Government.

    • Corporations turn town into a toxic sludge dump.
      Taxpayers pay for people to relocate.

      Corporations turn town into a toxic sludge dump.
      Corporations go out of business.
      People become more aware of the general problem of industrial pollution.
      Laws are passed to limit such behavior.
      People in the town get sick.
      After realizing that the horse has left the barn, taxpayers pay for people to relocate.

  • by Nautical Insanity ( 1190003 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:29PM (#29927723)

    The goods manufactured there are cheaper for us because they export the true cost onto the Chinese population and the environment. Those costs will catch up to them, just as they've caught up to us.

  • They could use if as a location for a live FPS game. Americas army with live ammo!

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:48PM (#29927963) Homepage

    The comment about lead levels is exaggeration. Lead levels between 5 and 10 mcg/dl are more likely caused by chipping lead paint or lead dust from home renovation. Those lead levels more likely indicate that the mining is NOT causing elevated lead levels.

    Lead levels above 10 mcg/dl are considered "elevated." Lead poisoning refers to lead levels above 24 mcg/dl.

    • by mortonda ( 5175 )

      Yeah, I wish I could get a EPA buyout of my home - My boys have elevated levels, my oldest was up to 34 at one point. 2 kids in the town have 5-10? big whoop-de-doo.

      Lead is a real problem, but I would start by looking at the paint condition in the house, doing lead containment or abatement, and using HEPA filter vacuum cleaners. Sounds like the surrounding environment really isn't that bad.

  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:53PM (#29928017)

    Doesn't $3 Million seem a bit cheap. Essentially, they could clean it up for billions, but instead they are just gonna move the population away for a measly $3M and hope that everyone just forgets about the place.

    I don't think that this "solution" will work in all cases, but in this case I am glad they decided to spend $3M rather than cleaning up the mess. If left alone for a couple of centuries, I'd wager that nature will take care of much of the mess.

    • With only 100 residents left, you could probably do it for $3m. The remaining abandoned property will be snatched up, through eminent domain or something similar (there's bound to be a statute for this sort of thing...

      Hedley Lamarr: Wait a minute... there might be legal precedent. Of course! Land-snatching!
      [grabs a law book]
      Hedley Lamarr: Land, land... "Land: see Snatch."
      [flips back several pages]
      Hedley Lamarr: Ah, Haley vs. United States. Haley: 7, United States: nothing. You see, it can be done!

  • Times Beach [], Love Canal [], etc.

  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:54PM (#29928029)

    Some photos from around Treese:

    Chat []

    Cave Ins []

    • Some photos from around Treese:

      Chat []

      Cave Ins []

      I don't know what's uglier, the ground level photos or the satellite images.

    • by tibman ( 623933 )

      hah, i like the sign that just says "US Property. NO"

    • by speleo ( 61031 ) * on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:45PM (#29928667) Homepage

      I grew up near this area over the state line in neighboring Joplin Missouri.

      Back in the 70s and 80s piles of chat hundreds of feet tall could be seen for miles. Chat is the local term for the mining waste -- in this case mostly limestone that's been pulverized and the lead and zinc removed. But there are trace amounts of lead remaining. Most of the chat has since been removed and used as railroad ballast and road base.

      As kids we used to play in these chat piles -- you could find all kinds of interesting minerals and occasionally fossils. Occasionally the ground would collapse around the flooded and abandoned mines.

      I was just back to this area several months ago and me and some friends spent the day taking pictures around Picher, OK and nearby Route 66. Picher is essentially a ghost town nowadays, but interestingly you can still drive and walk around the area, even though it's an EPA superfund site.

      BTW, there's a geek connection to Picher. One of the companies to survive the mining is Eagle-Picher; they were an early innovator in battery technology and became a major supplier of batteries in aerospace, including the batteries for the Apollo missions. In nearby Quapaw, OK that built a boron enrichment plant producing boron 10 isotopes for the nuclear industry, too.

  • Communists! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Just apply the free-market solution to this bunch of pathetic pinko trash: fuck 'em. You want mommy government to buy out the town? No, let it fetch the free market price of $0.01 an acre (if you find a sucker willing to pay that much). This crying about lead poisoning is communist bullshit anyway. If it weren't for the commie EPA they wouldn't know it was bad at all and the town would be rolling in the riches of the free market. They'd also pull themselves up by the bootstraps and not complain about
  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:10PM (#29928241)

    Prior to starting the mining, the company should have to commit
    to paying, say, 25% of top-line revenue into a fund to be held in escrow
    by the government.
    If the company cleans up adequately, and operates cleanly all along,
    then at termination of mining operations, they get the funds back with interest.
    If the government has to clean up, it uses the fund. There should be a penalty
    catch, something like: If the government has to spend more than 25% of the
    fund cleaning up, then the government fines the company the rest, and
    such money is made available to an R&D pool that companies and universities
    can access only for purposes of R&D into more environmentally responsible
    methods and technologies for extracting resources.

    This is probably an appropriate place to state that my signature line is ironic,
    being a listing of two oxymorons.

  • Companies extracted the minerals without actually paying the true cost of their actions (and thereby generated higher profits), and now the taxpayer needs to pick up the bill. Of course, the relocation is only the tip of the iceberg: medical costs and environmental costs are likely to be many times over the cost of the relocation.

    • Agreed. But money exchanges aren't the answer. Companies simply factor that as a cost of business, even if it's a risk of cost, not a cost ultimately paid.

      The fix for this sort of thing is jail time.

  • You mean I can buy an entire town for $3,000,000? That's not a lot of money for a bunch of buildings and some land.

    So what do you do with a polluted site?

    I can't think of any business model, but there has to be something...

    Wind farm? Solar? Landfill?

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:30PM (#29928507) Journal
    The little town I grew up in is pretty much all a Superfund site from old mine tailings piles and uncapped vertical mine shafts, but unlike this situation, where the EPA has to fork out $3M for a problem that companies created and then ran away from, in Leadville the reclamation efforts have gone past $400 million and despite levels of lead, arsenic, and selenium in the ground water that are so high the upper Arkansas river sometimes has all the fish die(*), people in Leadville want to get the EPA out at any cost and live in their polluted town. When I look at the pictures of Treese, it looks very much like Leadville used to, where the highways and streets wiggled between tailings piles 20-50 feet high, and a short walk out of town led to streams the color of Mountain Dew or orange juice [] (scroll down to the second-to-last picture).

    So, I think this sounds like a remarkably civilized end to a nasty story, and hope they can get the people out. I've worked with people who had chronic lead and mercury poisoning from old mine contamination and some of them are really seriously screwed up.

    (*) There was an old mine called the Yak Tunnel, dug not for minerals but to drain all the other mines, at a much lower level than they were, so it served as the sewage drain for dozens of huge mines. Whenever one of the old abandoned mines would have a collapse, a huge surge of contaminated water would dump out the Yak and right into the upper Arkansas, killing everything downstream for dozens of miles.

  • Allowing a government to buy a town is clearly unfair competition and socialism. Only private businesses should be allowed to buy towns.

    • private business has mad lots of profits by polluting and destroying the city and it's surroundings. now it's time for the community to pay up ... go figure.

  • That is why I hate early 1970s!

  • Something tells me [] there's a nice investment opportunity in the Cardin, KS housing market...

  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @05:28PM (#29929153) Homepage
    Considering how ridiculously broke our federal government is, I'm not sure in what sense it can continue to be said that it is "buying" or "paying" for things.
  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @08:41PM (#29930887) Homepage
    Mines come in when it's profitable, screw up the environment because nobody can stop them (that would be government regulation, which would be socialistical), and leave having raped the land of the only thing that was worth anything. The people left behind have no money to clean up the mess the mines made, and the mine companies are under no obligation to do so themselves. Yet another example of why libertarianism is a pipe-dream utopia second only to Communism in its impracticality.
  • Ron Paul (Score:3, Funny)

    by BitHive ( 578094 ) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @02:03PM (#29935789) Homepage

    Once again an inept bureaucracy of the federal government tries to solve problems with bigger, more expensive problems. We don't need an EPA, the constitution gives us property rights. If pollution encroaches on your private property you don't need to appeal to Big Environmentalism, just take the polluter to court!

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva