MVSKOKE RESERVATION – On Sept. 6, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new Superfund site in Oklahoma. Superfund sites are polluted areas that are deemed a risk to human health and require long-term efforts at cleanup, monitoring and remediation. The listing is the 18th Superfund site within the state of Oklahoma.
In March of 2023, the EPA proposed adding Fansteel Metals/FMRI to the National Priorities List. According to a statement from Regional Administrator Dr. Eartha Nance, those who live near the Superfund sites should not have to worry.
“The EPA remains committed to ensuring the safety and health of citizens who live near these Superfund sites,” Dr. Nance said. “By adding the Fansteel Metals site to the NPL, we are enforcing environmental justice and taking action to remove a threat that impacts the environment and public health.”
The site, formerly Fansteel Metals/FMRI, is located north of Oklahoma Highway 62 near the Arkansas river in Muskogee. The site sits within the boundaries of the Cherokee Reservation and is adjacent to the Mvskoke Reservation.
Fansteel Metals/FMRI was in operation between 1957-1989 and produced tantalum and columbium metals from uranium ore. Both metals are used in technology and electronics. The operation produced radioactive residues which were deposited onsite in waste ponds.
The site had not been maintained nor cleaned since the company filed for bankruptcy in 2002, prompting an emergency response action from the EPA in 2018.
While the EPA has reliable data on hazardous sites, identifying those in Indian Country can be difficult due to the nuances in ownership and land use, according to the Tribal Lands Assistance Center. However, the Fansteel/FMRI site had been on the state and federal radar for years.
Before closing operations in 1989, Fansteel/FMRI had operated since 1967 with a license under the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commision due to the high concentrations of uranium produced at the site. After a 2002 bankruptcy filing, a note in the amount of $30 million was provided to fund decommissioning the site in three phases.
When the EPA completed an emergency response action in 2018 and an expanded site investigation in 2019, phase one of the clean-up process had not been completed. The action removed toxic chemicals from the site and established that the groundwater near the facility was contaminated with metals and radioactive material.
Just Over the Fence
Of the 18 Superfund sites in Oklahoma, half are in eastern Oklahoma. Of those nine sites, three are within the Mvskoke Reservation. These include Henryetta Oil and Metal in Henryetta, and Wilcox Petroleum Co in Bristow.
Director of MCN Environmental Services James Williams explained that although the site is in the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation, the site cleanup is still in the best interest of Mvskoke people. MCN has been involved in public meetings over the site and kept informed on the EPA’s process because of the site’s proximity.
MCN Environmental Services routinely works with the EPA in consultation and collaboration. “We have an open door policy with them and they’re good at assisting us and we’re good at assisting them,” Williams stated.
The Fansteel/FMRI site sits as Williams says, “on our neighbor’s side.” He explained the importance of communication between tribal and federal governments. “This is our backyard, that’s what we call our reservation boundaries, and we like to keep an eye on the neighbors… And we’re also looking down the road for the next seven generations, looking for their future too.” Williams said.
For more information about Oklahoma’s Superfund sites go to: Cleaning Up Oklahoma.