GALENA, KS.--- Cleanup of the former Eagle Picher Smelter in Galena started six years ago. Toxic metals were found on the surface of the area. As of today, city officials say that's all changed. Several months ago, 160 acres in Northeast Galena looked like a construction site. Crews worked to clean the property after the government determined 65 of those acres to be active for heavy, toxic metals.
"The environment was loaded with that surface level of lead, zinc, cadmium, and mercury," said Dale Oglesby, Mayor of Galena.
The main concern was the possibility of the minerals seeping into Short Creek, which flows into Spring River and ultimately into Grand Lake. Now, those four metals have been removed from that environment and the former Eagle Picher Smelter is filled with vegetation. The harsh chemicals have been contained and the area is safer for the community.
"They can't leach into the creek, they can't wash away. They've been placed in a containment. It's sealed and it will be there from now on," said Mayor Oglesby.
The total cost of the cleanup project was more than $6 million. However, tax payers did not carry that burden. When Eagle Picher Smelter was forced to pay millions of dollars in a settlement, the federal government made sure some of that money went towards cleaning up the environment.
"The federal government set aside an estimate of 6.2 to 6.3 million dollars to come in here and remediate the site so further lead contamination of the creek would be forever gone," he said.
Today, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment re-tested the area and deemed it safe for the city.
"Now this is a productive piece of property again. And it's productive for the city, for the county, for the state and it's just a win-win for the Tri-State District," he said.
Mayor Oglesby says the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will continue to monitor the site. He's happy the project is complete and says who knows what the area could be in five years.