Galena in Cherokee County, Kansas — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
Mining And Its Impacts
Creating Healthy Environments For The Future
As an important mining town, Galena had numerous mines and smelters, but none was more important than the Eagle-Picher smelter plant north of the pre-1940s Route 66 alignment. The facility operated from around the late 19th century until 2004 and was one of the largest smelters in the U.S., processing lead, zinc, and cadmium ores to produce those metals in addition to zinc oxide, zinc sulfide, manganese sulfate, manganese dioxide, and sulfuric acid. Highly visible on the landscape, "Hell's Half Acre,” once known as "Hickory Flats,” was also an epicenter of activity, as evidenced by the countless mine shafts, waste ore from the mines known as 'chat' and tailings that were present after mining activity ceased.
While mining brought a lot of wealth into the region, it also left physical and environmental hazards. Mine shafts and tunnels can collapse, illustrated in 2009 when buildings in Galena partially collapsed after a tunnel gave way. More significantly, the mines occupied the same bedrock as the area's shallow aquifer. When abandoned, water refilled the tunnels and became contaminated, which
Cleaning Up the Tri-State Mining District The EPA added Cherokee County to the National Priorities List in 1983, a process that identified over 1,500 open shafts and nearly 500 collapses. Early cleanup efforts centered around Galena because it had some of the worst contamination and 599 identified mine hazards, many of which were in "Hell's Half Acre.” In response, the EPA installed water treatment units for contaminated wells and helped the City of Galena provide safe water for over 500 affected residences and businesses. By 1995, the EPA had removed metal-contaminated soils from residences, filled mine collapses and shafts, gathered surface mine wastes, diverted streams to avoid the waste, and planted sites with native vegetation.
Other areas required more dramatic approaches. Numerous residential properties had contaminated soils removed and replaced with clean backfill and vegetation. In 2008, the EPA bought out and relocated about 1,600 residents of Picher, Oklahoma, an area with extreme levels of contamination and ground instability, followed by 100 residents from Treece, Kansas in 2014.
Overall, cleanup restored a 25-square-mile portion of the 115-square-mile Cherokee County Superfund site as a wildlife habitat, restoring the natural and reducing human health risks. Native grasses, streams, and wildlife have replaced rock and gravel in many areas, though some evidence of lead and zinc mining can still be found. Some efforts are ongoing, and remediated sites must be monitored. As a result progress will continue into the future.
Erected by Historic Route 66 Byway.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Environment • Industry & Commerce • Parks & Recreational Areas • Roads & Vehicles. In addition, it is included in the U.S. Route 66 🛣️ series list.
Location. 37° 4.553′ N, 94° 38.364′ W. Marker is in Galena , Kansas, in Cherokee County. Marker is on South Main Street just south of West 5th Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 518 S Main St, Galena KS 66739, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Welcome To Galena (here, next to this marker); Galena Chamber of Commerce, Galena, Kansas (here, next to this marker); Galena Growth And Change (here, next to this marker); Route 66 Howard 'Pappy' Litch Park (within shouting distance of this marker); Galena, Kansas (within shouting distance of this marker); War Memorial (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Kansas Ozarks (approx. 2.3 miles away); Land's Legacy (approx. 4.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Galena.
Credits. This page was last revised on December 4, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 4, 2020, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. This page has been viewed 44 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on December 4, 2020, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.