Skip to content
Grist home
Support nonprofit news

Articles by Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera reports on Indigenous Affairs in Oklahoma. She is Xolon/Salinan from the Toro Creek area of California's Central Coast.

Featured Article

This story was produced in collaboration with Newsy

The town of Picher, Oklahoma, on the Quapaw reservation, is home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the United States. Tar Creek, which feeds into the Neosho River then on to Grand Lake, runs gold with zinc. Underground reservoirs seep lead-tainted water and other toxic chemicals when it rains. Trees along the waterway have turned shades of orange near their roots where a steady flow of chemicals have oxidized and crusted over. On the landscape, gray piles of silicone, dolomite, and limestone waste stand two to three stories high. In 1994, the Indian Health Service reported that 34 percent of Native American children in the area had lead concentrations in their bloodstream well above the federal limit — a lasting legacy after more than a century of mining for zinc and lead at multiple sites on the reservation.  

“It’s everywhere,” said Quapaw Nation Secretary Treasurer Guy Barker. “Trace amounts of lead within drinking water, groundwater —  it’s also in the air. It’s blowing around, it’s in the ground soils... Read more