For generations, the ground beneath Ottawa County, Oklahoma, was mined for lead and zinc.
The mines closed half a century ago, but some of the pollution they created remains.
In the 90s, almost a third of children living nearby had unhealthy levels of lead in their blood. And despite cleanup efforts by the EPA, heavy metal contamination still plagues some areas.
“Tar Creek is an 11-mile creek that … runs through one of the largest lead and zinc abandoned mine sites,” says Rebecca Jim of LEAD Agency, an environmental justice group.
She says mounds of mining waste — up to 200 feet high — still sit along the creek bank.
When it rains, toxic particles dissolve into the water and seep into the soil. During floods, the contaminated water can spill into downstream areas.
And the danger is growing as climate change brings more extreme rain.
Her group worked with researchers to create maps that show residents the locations of mine waste and the areas at risk during a 100-year flood.
“First of all they find their house. And then they find their mother’s house,” she says.
Jim hopes the maps can help people advocate for action to protect their communities.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media