Residents of a former Kansas mining town worried about contaminated dust are finally getting their wish.
The Picher, Oklahoma City Hall opened for the last time on Monday. That same day the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would be conducting blood screenings and would monitor the air quality in Treece, Kansas, which is just across the state line from Picher.
The last testing done in Treece was around 1983.
Blood screenings are scheduled to be conducted at the Treece City Hall on Tuesday, September 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., then again on Wednesday, September 9 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Officials with the EPA had recently visited the town of Treece to hear what residents had to say about the issue. One of the things the mayor and a large majority of the people at the meeting brought up was air quality testing according to David Bryan, Press Officer for EPA Office Region 7.
After the meeting with Treece residents, Bryan said "we decided we should do some air monitoring."
District 1 State Representative Doug Gatewood said that when EPA officials return to Treece to test the quality of the air, he hopes they see some of the same weather the town saw earlier in the year.
"I hope that they experience a little bit of dry weather like we did earlier in the year and when we had some dust blowing," Gatewood explained. "That's the only way they're going to get a true test, if it stays like that."
Gatewood confirmed the EPA will be taking blood samples, testing for lead as well as zinc and other heavy metals.
What happens next depends on the results.
"It's not a 'yes' or 'no' question because when you're talking about the blood stream you're talking about levels where there would be a health concern," said Bryan. "If it's above ten, then case filings begin to work with the family to see about reducing exposure children might have."
Children will not be the only ones tested.
"This is a little different in the aspect that we're actually testing anyone that would like to be screened," said Bryan. "Normally we do children (but) there was some points brought up that some of the adults would like to be tested also, so we decided to accommodate them."
Gatewood said he will be interested in seeing the EPA's report.
"I saw the report for Picher and I think they're going to see the same things in Kansas," Gatewood said. "That's what's been kind of an atrocity - Treece has kind of been a stepchild in this whole process."
Gatewood said that even though Picher has already been through this process and the entire area is called the Tar Creek Super Fund Site, the Kansas town of around 70 families was left out on it's own.
Cherokee County Commissioner Jack Garner said that he thinks the testing is a waste of money.
"There's no difference between Picher and Treece - I think it's just a waste of tax dollars, personally," Commissioner Garner said. "I'm no scientist by any means, but when it's right across the road and there's no barriers - it's basically the same deal, it's all the same, there's no difference - if it's there in Picher, it's there in Treece."
"What the difference is is beyond me," Representative Gatewood said. "I don't care what state you're in, what's right for one community is right for the other."
The difference is that Oklahoma is under a different EPA regional office than Kansas, but David Bryan of the EPA said he understood the frustration.
"This is a contentious issue and any time you're talking about the health and welfare of children, we want to make sure we do what we need to do," Bryan said.
Commissioner Garner said he wanted to thank the states representatives for "doing their job and sticking with."
Agencies involved in the testing process include the EPA, the Cherokee County Health Department, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.