EPA jurisdiction line leaves Treece helpless

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What was once a prosperous community is now one of the saddest places on this earth. You do not have to travel far to visit Treece, Kan. There you will witness eyes lined with sadness as exhausted souls hold tight to hope.

Less than a mile south of Treece is Picher, Okla. “These two small towns are separated by the state line, but are essentially one community,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Service, in a 2006 press release.

In fact, Treece and Picher were once united as one city, Treece Mayor Bill Blank said.

“[In 1918 Oklahoma] moved on,” said Blank. “Oklahoma did not want to have anything else to do with us, so Kansas had no choice but to pick us up.”

Both Treece and Picher hold great historical significance, as they produced large amounts of lead and zinc used to make bullets for both world wars. Treece and Picher were not much different than other small towns. They were home to two grocery stores, a movie theater, bars and restaurants, and many more small businesses.

Today, millions of tons of mine waste dust, called chat, filled with lead, cadmium and zinc billows through the air blanketing cars, houses and community members. The community is tainted with hazardous waste which causes serious health issues to the brain and nervous system, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1980, the federal government created the Superfund Program under the EPA to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste in cities like Treece and Picher. Under the program, the state financially supports 10 percent of the cleanup and the federal government will cover the rest. Special appropriations are made to purchase the property and provide compensation for the residents of the area to move to a safer location through the program, too.

As of now only Picher has been compensated by the federal government, leaving the residents of Treece to bear witness as their neighbors and friends moved for a safer and healthier life. Treece was not supported by the appropriations made to Picher simply because the appropriations came from EPA district six; Kansas falls under EPA district seven.

As Picher left, so too did the infrastructure of Treece. For three years – since April 2006 – the citizens of Treece have been begging for support from the federal government. There is no longer a police department, fire department, post office, medical center or even a grocery store in the community because all of those were located in Picher. Treece’s infrastructure consists of only one business, Moreland Tires.

A little over 100 residents remain prisoners in their hometown as it is impossible to get a loan or sell their home because their property is so undermined, a catastrophic soil collapse is likely to occur. Many cannot purchase a new home because they do not have the financial means, and do not know how much money the government will lend them. For now the residents of Treece wait – like they have been – as they continue to witness the effects of chat on themselves, their loved ones, and their children.

Treece is a town soaked with sorrow. With the grocery stores, movie theater, and bars and restaurants all gone, joy for these citizens is found in the little things, memories of the past and hope for a future.

With the billions being put into the stimulus package and the trillions our country has spent over the past decade, how is it our government cannot find the time and financial support for a small town in Kansas? If this took place in a larger city like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Kansas City, I assume the government would act immediately. Are the lives of those in a small town not as valuable or important as those in a hectic metropolis?

We can only assume so, as long as the lives abandoned in Treece continue to suffer and wait for answers and assistance.

Bobby Gomez is a senior in elementary education. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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