Chast picher

Pharmacist Gary Linderman, 59, runs the remaining retail business in Picher, Ole Miners Pharmacy.

It's a social hub for former residents who remain loyal to the store and travel from nearby towns for their medicine.

Another 8 million is expected to be spent on the cleanup over the next 20 years, Sullivan says.

Most of the remediation work going on now involves excavating contaminated sludge and remodeling stream beds with clean soil, adding water treatment units, collecting clean water from existing uncontaminated wells and distributing it via a pipeline network to the few remaining homes and farms in the area, while also drilling new wells.

That time is still some way off, according to Bob Sullivan, the Environmental Protection Agency site manager for the cleanup.

He says the federal government has spent 1 million since Picher and the surrounding areas were declared a “Superfund” site in 1983, when the town’s toxicity levels surpassed even those of the infamous Love Canal site in upstate New York in the mid-1970s.

Noting that she's also dyslexic and was recently tested with an I. of 65, she said she's starting to wonder if her childhood in Picher contributed to her health problems.

By the time mining ceased operations in the late 1960s, there were an estimated 178 million tons of chat, mill sand and sludge in about 30 piles scattered in and around Picher.

As the town dwindled to fewer than 2,000 residents, the chat piles became an integral part of the local culture.

Among those still living and working in the town is 59-year-old Gary Linderman, who has owned and operated the Ole Miner Pharmacy on U. Despite the hardships visited on his town over the last century, he senses a change of fortune in the wind.

“I think there’s going to be a resurgence in Picher -- in time,” he said.

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