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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Region 6 Environmental Contaminants

Baxter Springs Subsite, Cherokee County - Kansas

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The Baxter Springs Subsite (Figure 1) is 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.

 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)


Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS

Environmental remediation at Baxter Springs Subsite, during February 27, 2002 and after June 23, 2004.

Photo taken by John Miesner/USFWS

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