Ghost Town: Picher, Oklahoma

I always imagined America's largest Superfund site, land designated by the EPA as contaminated by harmful toxic waste, to be on a catastrophic scale similar to Chernobyl. Luckily, in the United States Superfund sites are not as notable as Chernobyl. In fact, if you are not careful you may drive right through one like I did on a recent trip.

I was on my way to Quapaw, Oklahoma when I sped through what looked like a an abandoned town. I had heard of Picher, Oklahoma, mostly because of a tornado that hit it a few years ago. An eerie downtown lingers on with one lone pharmacy still running a business along the town's main street. Most of the community is fenced off by chain link fence or barbed wire accompanied by government signs. After a bit of research I found that the government labeled Picher the Tar Creek Superfund site after chemical run off from the prevalent chat piles and lead mines seeped into the creek and poisoned the water. It was later discovered that there was a high instance of lead poisoning in the area and millions (if not billions) of dollars have since been spent to clean up the mess made by excessive mining. The large chat piles still remain and one can only assume that when the wind blows it still blows the nasty dust around. It seems the final death of the town occurred when a large tornado in 2008 encouraged the last remaining residents to take the government buy out and leave Picher for good. Now what is left is an eery subdivision that is emptied of all but the brick homes that at first look perfectly normal. They in fact do not have any doors or windows, lights or people.

If you are curious, there appears to be several documentaries on Picher. One of which is this one from PBS.

As a teenager I had to do a research project on Superfunds and I remember reading about Love Canal, the New York subdivision that had to be evacuated due to harmful toxic run-off from waste. Love Canal is certainly a better known Suprefund site. The history is certainly fascinating.  (Here is a link if you are interested