At the National Service Learning Conference in Atlanta Kindel Maymi and I learned elevator speeches from Cathy Berger Kaye. Be ready if you were on an elevator with someone for only one floor, but your extended speech if you got to ride up several more floors. When lined up to get into our plane at the airport, I did it. Senator Inhofe was standing a few people in front of me. I walked forward to speak to him. He won't remember that encounter, but I do. It was my first elevator speech. I thanked him for finding the funding to help Picher and Cardin's Voluntary Buy-out and that I hoped he understood it was not over, there was more to do at Tar Creek.
That is more or less what I asked a crew of people to do this week. To practice an elevator speech to give to people who might have the power to do something for us and for Tar Creek. Albert Kelly, charged with the Superfund Program at EPA, along with the administrator's other senior advisor, Kenneth Wagner and his council, Erin Chancellor were coming to visit and their first stop was with us at LEAD Agency. Ken Wagner and Erin Chancellor arrived without Mr. Kelly who had stayed home with the flu. I loved that he took care of himself and us and stayed put but am sure he will come and when he does we will have had more time to practice.
A mother came with a lead poisoned child who experiencing developmental delays. He has lost his ability to speak whole words and is now speaking only the first syllable of the words he used to know. She asked, "Why is my son's lead level still too high?" She is on the list to have her yard tested for lead, and waits to see if that is the source of the lead. I explained we have many more yards left to test and that all should be re-checked if they were remediated earlier to ensure us they are safe for children. Keesha Bunch insisted the parks, playgrounds and daycares as well as yards must be clean. It's not just Picher, this is not over.
Ottawa County Health Department nurse Amanda Burnett explained it is hard to get accurate numbers of lead poisoned children in the county because so few are getting checked since testing is only suggested not required for children at 12 and 24 months.
Our community's newest dentist, Chris Robinson has a multigenerational connection to this place, eloquently expressed his concern and asked the officials for help since thousands of kids have had neurological damage and we have to stop it from happening in the future. He had a couple of actions on his list. The priority is to remediate the source. Stop the flow of metals, stop the bleeding. AND stop the commercial use of chat, stop sending this material all over the place to damage other communities.
Dr. Shirley Chesnut explained how her nurse thought children being referred in the early 1990's for hyperactivity were exposed to lead and testing confirmed it. When working in mental health she found depression, bipolar and severe mental illness common. She explained lead affects the neurological system, affects the way the brain works. She is also concerned about the high numbers of cancer cases and remarked, "Get rid of the chat piles. Until the chat piles are gone, wind will be carrying the metals into our communities."
Jill Micka spent her childhood outside and often near the Neosho River. In 2010 she was diagnosed with end stage renal failure. She asked simply with tears, "How do you honor God?" She used to like to be outside, take kids fishing, but with the flooding, contamination is everywhere. We are being denied our old people and denied where our kids can play.
She was one of the only people to say she was grateful for the visit, but went on to say EPA doesn't have a good reputation here but that their visit helps. She ended with a comment, "There are gifts around here," and I would say Jill is one of them.
Organic gardener Kelda Lorax brought maps indicating where her garden and farms are but expressed concern about our soils and the re-loading they get from the windblown chat metals. She asked for help on how to test the foods we grow and consume.
Growing up with his own "chat sand box" John Scruggs by 2nd grade was on Ritalin for hyperactivity. 3 years ago he was diagnosed with leukemia and during treatment his Oklahoma Medical Center doctor stated he had many other patients from Ottawa County.
Earl Hatley our Grand Riverkeeper said simply, Tar Creek itself is unacceptable. Discharge must be treated at Douthitt. Channel Tar Creek, keep chat from entering it. How many 5 year reviews can you say it just didn't work before you go back to the ROD and choose another remedy? He suggested pump and treat, lower the water table. During the dry time put chat back into the hole. The Boone Aquifer is written off but the water could be treated and the water used for good.
Martin Lively spoke early asked that our stories be shared. Our best leave and don't come back. It is dangerous for a child to grow up here and businesses don't want to come. We need support from EPA to help us get this fixed. Everyone is ready to do their part, we have potential and are on the cusp of rebuilding. Help us do this.
We filled our EPA visitors' time with concerns and hopes - suggestions for change and a chance to meet a 2 1/2 year old already struggling with the effects of lead poisoning.
Respectfully Listened to ~ Rebecca Jim