American Ghost Towns/Ghost towns in Oklahoma
Located just an hour’s drive from Bentonville, Arkansas, Picher is known to be one of the most toxic towns in America. However, the town is not completely deserted, it's still home to a handful of people who refuse to let go. During and around the time of World War I, Picher was a flourishing town due to the lead mining operations. In 1926 Picher reached a population of around 14,000. According to sources nearly half the bullets fired in World War I originated in the lead mines of Picher. The mine production only increased during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1970, Picher was declared a Superfund site and residents were offered money by the state to evacuate their homes. By late 2009 the town police and government were dissolved, and Picher was a ghost town.
The process of removing lead from the earth leaves behind a chalky, white, gritty byproduct known as chat. As the population of the town increased so did the production of the mines which created larger amounts of chat. Some of these piles became over a hundred feet tall and hundreds of feet wide. During the height of its production Picher had 227 mills that could sift 10 million pounds of ore in a day. After production stopped in 1970 what was left was 7000 acres of chat, mill ponds, and shale prairie. Water runoff from these contaminated mills leaked into groundwater and nearby creeks, polluting the drinking water. Dust from all the chat piles contaminated the air with heavy metal dust. Attempts were made to source deeper water for drinking, however in the mid-1990s residents were still plagued with lead poisoning. By the year 2000, it was evident from recent reports that area was unlivable and needed to be evacuated.
The Army Corps of Engineers did a study and concluded that the mining had left voids in the earth, under a large portion of the town’s homes. Essentially the town would eventually be swallowed. Parents from nearby towns refused to let sports teams travel to Picher. In 2008 Picher received another stroke of back luck when the town was hit by a tornado that killed 6 people and destroyed 114 homes.
Now most of the residents of Picher, Oklahoma are wildlife, and even for wildlife it’s not the safest place to live. In 2015, over 1000 migratory birds were found dead in Picher, the cause is believed to be zinc poisoning.