"MIAMI, Oklahoma -- If you head north on Route 66, past Kay's Kut & Kurl, the Okie Burger drive-in and the house where Mickey Mantle grew up, you come to a silvery, man-made mountain range. These are metal mountains, massive piles of sand mixed with arsenic, lead, cadmium and manganese tailings--toxic leftovers from more than 300 mines that once made this northeast corner of Oklahoma a series of boomtowns.
From the turn of the century through the 1960s, miners dug in this area for lead, zinc and other raw materials, mostly used to make munitions for the military. When Eagle-Picher and most of the other mining companies shut down their sites by the mid-1970s, they didn't bother to clean up the toxic heaps, called chat. They abandoned the chat piles, some of which rose about 200 feet high and were as wide as two city blocks. The chat blew around Ottawa County, coating houses and yards with poisonous dust and saturating the air near schools and stores. Oblivious to any danger, parents helped themselves to the chat to fill sandboxes, and kids raced dirt bikes over the peaks."
Sheila Kaplan and Marilyn Berlin Snell report for The Nation April 15, 2010.