One of the first Superfund sites in the United States remains one of the most polluted.

From the late 1800s through the 1960s, miners extracted lead and zinc from the ground beneath the Tar Creek area in northeastern Oklahoma. But 50 years after the mine was shuttered, the region’s toxic legacy still seeps from boreholes into the water and drifts in the wind from tailings piles. Even now, the unstable ground threatens to swallow up homes.

Neighboring residents — including those of the Quapaw Nation and Ottawa County’s other eight tribes — have paid a heavy toll. The mounting environmental and human health threats led the federal government to declare 40 square miles of the area a Superfund site in 1984.

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Photo Credit: Clifton Adcock/The Frontier