Tribe benefiting from chat piles

Saturday, August 23rd 2008, 7:22 pm
By: News 9

By Chris Wright for NEWS 9

PICHER, Okla. -- Millions of pounds of waste, left over from lead and zinc mining, are up for sale and the Quapaw tribe hopes to capitalize on it.

The chat has sat in and around the town of Picher for decades on Quapaw land.

In a town depopulated by an ongoing buyout and decimated by a tornado earlier this year, Picher's trademark chat piles may be the next thing to go.

"There's now going to be an avenue for people to buy Indian-owned chat and to have it sold," said Quapaw Tribe Environmental Director Tim Kent.

Kent said his people started selling chat when a moratorium on doing so was lifted three years ago. But buyers have been reluctant because the mine waste comes from the nation's largest superfund site.

In a recent decision, the EPA determined that the chat, which is used mainly in asphalt, does not pose any health risks.

The Quapaws said selling all of this will also speed up the government's clean-up of Tar Creek.

"It's sort of a win-win situation.  EPA gets the site cleaned up and there's a useful product that comes out of it," said Kent.

Even the tribe admits that the millions of pounds of chat won't disappear overnight.  In fact, it said they could be here for decades, long after Picher becomes a ghost town.

The tribe doesn't mind exercising some patience while trying to move the estimated 50 million pounds of waste. After allowing mining on their land, the Quapaws have waited a century to profit from it.

"A lot of tribal members have been waiting, in some cases 100 years, for an economic benefit of this chat that's been on their land," said Kent.

According to the Quapaws, the EPA believes that between 90 and 95% of the chat can be sold in the next 20 years.

Companies who want to buy it will have to follow strict guidelines while removing it.