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Cherokee County - Kansas
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Cherokee County - Kansas

 

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  • Abandoned tailings impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Abandoned tailings impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Tailings washed from impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Tailings washed from impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Tailings impoundment, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Dike has been breached (center background) allowing movement of tailings from the impoundment. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Tailings impoundment, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Dike has been breached (center background) allowing movement of tailings from the impoundment. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Tailings impoundment dike failure, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Tailings impoundment dike failure, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Tailings wash out at the Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Tailings wash out at the Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Example of Native Prairie Hay Meadow with diversity of vegetation, Cherokee County, KS. Nov. 6, 2003. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Example of Native Prairie Hay Meadow with diversity of vegetation, Cherokee County, KS. Nov. 6, 2003. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Chat, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Chat, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Water erosion through chat pile, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Water erosion through chat pile, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Bull rock pile, location of shaft during previous mining at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Bull rock pile, location of shaft during previous mining at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Man made farm pond north of Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Man made farm pond north of Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Surficial runoff control structure, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Surficial runoff control structure, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Wet subsidence pond formed by two separate collapses in the upper left and lower right of picture. Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Wet subsidence pond formed by two separate collapses in the upper left and lower right of picture. Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Wet subsidence pond formed by three separate collapses, upper left, center right, and lower left. Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Wet subsidence pond formed by three separate collapses, upper left, center right, and lower left. Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • State line subsidence pond, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Dry area in center of pond indicates the location of mine-supports that divides the pond on the KS-MO state line. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    State line subsidence pond, Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Dry area in center of pond indicates the location of mine-supports that divides the pond on the KS-MO state line. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Dry subsidence now being used as a trash-dump site, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Dry subsidence now being used as a trash-dump site, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Frozen subsidence pond. Part of the shaft accessing the mine is visible at the far waterline. The faults which created this subsidence, are visible on either side of the shaft. Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Frozen subsidence pond. Part of the shaft accessing the mine is visible at the far waterline. The faults which created this subsidence, are visible on either side of the shaft. Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Spring River at low flow, Badger Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Spring River at low flow, Badger Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Abandoned tailings impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Spring River at low flow, Badger Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS

  • Concrete blocks are the remains of an abandoned mill site, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Concrete blocks are the remains of an abandoned mill site, Crestline Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 30, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Exploratory mine with waste rock pile. Area of disturbance is location of trees, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Exploratory mine with waste rock pile. Area of disturbance is location of trees, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

  • Farm land with winter wheat surrounding exploratory mine with waste rock pile, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

    Farm land with winter wheat surrounding exploratory mine with waste rock pile, Lawton Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

Background: Cherokee County is located in the southeastern corner of Kansas (Figure 1).  Portions of this county and neighboring counties in Missouri (Jasper County and Newton County) and Oklahoma (Ottawa County) collectively known as the Tri-State Mining District (Figure 2) were mined extensively for lead and zinc for more than a century.  Lead and zinc mining began in Missouri in the mid-19th century and peaked in 1916, then shifted to Kansas and Oklahoma.  Diminishing production led to the closure of the mines in Missouri by 1957.  Output from the Cherokee County and Ottawa County, Oklahoma mines peaked in the 1920s and 1930s and diminished thereafter.  The last active mine in the Tri-State Mining District,located just west of Baxter Springs, Kansas closed in 1970.  The number of operating mines in the early 1900s was estimated to be in the hundreds.

Altogether, the Tri-State Mining District is approximately 2,500 square-miles in area, encompassing the northwest edge of the Ozark Uplift in Missouri, extending west and south through Kansas and Oklahoma to the eastern fringe of the Great Plains.  The Cherokee County, Kansas portion of the Tri-State Mining District covers about 115-square miles.

Mining operations were principally underground and involved sinking shafts to subsurface ore bodies.  At the surface, the raw ore was crushed in stages and the metals were separated by gravity separation or, later flotation.  Waste rock, development rock, chat, and tailings materials were dumped at the surface in waste piles.  Many wastes were re-milled as more efficient separation techniques became available. Several small smelters were operated throughout Cherokee County, later being consolidated into a single site at Galena, Kansas in about 1920.  This smelter remained in operation until 1970. 

After 150 years of mining and smelting, chat piles, tailings sites, development and waste rock piles, andsubsidence ponds (collapses of underground mined areas) are prominent features of the landscape in the four counties of the district.  Much of the total volume of surface mine wastes has been removed over the last few decades to provide materials for building and roads.  Approximately 94% of Kansas wastes have been removed; however, thousands of acres of wastes still remain on the ground surface.  Much of this waste is highly contaminated with hazardous substances, including cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), and selenium (Se).  Of these, cadmium, lead, and zinc are the main contaminants at the site because of their relative volume, concentration, or  toxicity.

Because of threats posed to human health and the environment by mining-related releases of hazardous substances, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund Program included mining-impacted areas in all three states on its National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983.  The Cherokee County Superfund site has been divided into seven mining areas:  Baxter Springs, TreeceGalenaBadger, Lawton, Waco, and Crestline.  EPA has pursued  and implemented remedies for some of the identified operable units while others are still in process.

  


Baxter Springs »

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Environmental remediation at Baxter Springs Subsite, during February 27, 2002 and after June 23, 2004. Credit: John Miesner/USFWS.

Environmental remediation at Baxter Springs Subsite, during February 27, 2002 and after June 23, 2004. Credit: John Miesner/USFWS.

The Baxter Springs Subsite (Figure 1is one of the seven subsites which make up the Cherokee County, Kansas Superfund site.  Baxter Springs lies within the former Picher mining field, one of the most productive lead and zinc mining areas in the United States.  This area is part of the larger Tri-State Mining District of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

The Baxter Springs Subsite is drained by Willow Creek, Spring Branch, and other small unnamed drainages which flow predominantly to the east-southeast and discharge to the Spring River.  The State of Kansas has designated the lower portion of Spring Branch as a critical habitat for nine threatened or endangered species.

 Discoveries of lead and zinc deposits from the Picher field date back to as early as 1901 in the vicinity of Lincolnville, Oklahoma.  The first commercial production of lead and zinc ore from the Picher field was in 1904.  Mining operations occurred underground at depths between 200 and 500 feet below the surface.  Mining operations continued in the Picher field through the 1950s, with the last large mining company closing down underground mining operations in 1958.  Smaller mining operations continued in the Picher field until 1970.  Closure of the Swalley Mine, 2 miles west of Baxter Springs, marked the end of mining activities in the Tri-State Mining District.

Environmental remediation at Baxter Springs Subsite, during February 27, 2002 and after June 23, 2004. Credit: John Miesner/USFWS.

Environmental remediation at Baxter Springs Subsite, during February 27, 2002 and after June 23, 2004. Credit: John Miesner/USFWS.

 The Baxter Springs Subsite has been contaminated with lead, zinc, and cadmium as a result of mining and milling activities.  These hazardous substances are found in the surface water, sediments, soils, mine/mill wastes, and groundwater within the subsite.  The EPA initiated an investigation at the Baxter Springs Subsite in 1987.  The parties potentially responsible for contamination of this area took over the study in conjunction with a similar investigation at the nearby Treece Subsite in early 1990.  This study explored the nature and extent of soil and water pollution at the two subsites concurrently and recommended the best strategies for final cleanup.

 The surface area of the Baxter Springs and Treece Subsites is approximately 17 square miles or 10,880 acres.  It is estimated that 1,255 acres within these subsites are covered with surficial mining/milling waste piles, tailings impoundments, and stream outwash tailings deposits.  Since the late 1960s, the mill waste piles of the Picher field have been actively quarried for commercial uses such as construction, concrete aggregate, railroad ballast, highway and secondary road construction, and sandblasting.

 (Information obtained from the Record of Decision, Baxter Springs and Treece Subsites, USEPA, 1997)


Badger, Waco, Lawton & Crestline Subsites, Cherokee County - Kansas »

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Tailings washed from impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

Tailings washed from impoundment at Waco Subsite, Cherokee County, KS. Jan. 29, 2004. Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS.

The Badger, Lawton, Waco and Crestline mining areas are four of the seven subsites which make up the Cherokee County Superfund Site (Figure 1).  These smaller mining areas are considered together as Operable Unit 6 (OU-6) because of their similar sizes, location, geological characteristics, and production histories.  These areas are part of the much larger Tri-State Mining District of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Mining began at the Badger Subsite in approximately 1889, at Crestline in approximately 1906, at Lawton in approximately 1907, and at Waco in approximately 1916.  The Waco mining area, which straddles the Kansas-Missouri state line, was the largest and most productive of these four areas, followed by Badger, Crestline, and Lawton.  Altogether, these mining areas produced approximately 9.9 million tons of ore.  Zinc concentrates produced at the Waco Subsite were especially valuable due to the low lead content. 

The ores at OU-6 were found in multiple horizons from less than 100 to more than 300 feet below the ground surface.  To extract these ores, some mines, such as those at Waco, had up to four levels of mining.  The resulting layering of excavations at the sites has led to instability and subsidence of the ground surface, creating many ponds, pits, collapses, and shafts that are filled by surface water and/or groundwater.  The Waco Subsite alone has approximately 13 ponds which were created by surface subsidences.

Surface waters that do not flow directly into subsidences or other mining features flow to the Spring River or its two primary tributaries, Cow Creek and Shawnee Creek.  The Spring River is a major interstate stream and is located on the eastern side of OU-6.  The Waco and Lawton Subsites drain towards Cow Creek; the Crestline Subsite drains towards Shawnee Creek; and the Spring River flows through the Badger Subsite.  One mine at the Waco Subsite actually crossed underneath the Spring River. 

Ecological risks are the primary site risks at OU-6; human health risks are low due to the area’s low population.   Ecological risks result from elevated levels of zinc, lead, and cadmium in mining wastes, soils, sediments, groundwater, and surface water within the four subsites.  Ecological receptors are exposed to heavy metals primarily by ingestion of impacted mine wastes, soils, surface water, vegetation, and prey as well as inhalation of  dusts.

(Information obtained from the Focused Feasibility Study for Badger, Lawton, Waco and Crestline Subsites, Cherokee County Kansas, NewFields 2003; and the Proposed Plan, Cherokee County Superfund Site, Badger, Lawton, Waco, and Crestline Subsites Operable Unit #06, USEPA 2004.)

 


Public documents, links and contacts »

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Public Documents                                                                                     

Contacts

If you have any questions or comments related to the Cherokee County NRDA, contact us via email or telephone: John Miesner- Contaminants Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 785-539-3474 ex.103

     

 

  

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: May 18, 2016
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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