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Haunting photos of ‘the most toxic town in America’ unveil the troubling reality of boomtowns: ‘I went there once … it was so eerie’

Residents were offered money to move away for their own safety.

Residents were offered money to move away for their own safety.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

One Redditor has nominated Picher, Oklahoma, as “the most toxic town in America,” and after looking at their photos and learning the history of the town, it’s easy to see why.

The post about the town appeared on r/UrbanHell, a subreddit whose members share photos of “the darker side of the cities, towns, and villages in our shared world.” That includes both ugly locations and places where human development has created problems — with Picher being an extreme example of the latter.

Residents were offered money to move away for their own safety.
Photo Credit: Reddit
Residents were offered money to move away for their own safety.
Photo Credit: Reddit

The photos the Redditor shared seem unremarkable at first. The buildings pictured are run down, and the fact that Picher is a ghost town quickly becomes obvious from the shot of its main street with boarded windows and its abandoned water tower in the background. The problem is that formations in the background that look like mountains are actually manmade — and deadly.

“Why is it so toxic?” one commenter asked.

“Those huge mounds you see in the photo were not there naturally. That’s byproducts of lead and zinc mining. Toxic dust, sand, water,” the original poster replied.

In their comment, they added several links, including one to an article in the Oklahoman about the history of the town. According to the Oklahoman, Picher was an incredibly productive mining site, producing over half of the lead and zinc used in World War I.

The mountains near the town are made up of a mining byproduct called “chat,” which contains dangerous levels of lead. That lead contaminated the soil, air, and water, harming all of the residents but especially the children, who were most vulnerable to lead poisoning. 

Tar Creek, which runs through the area, turned so acidic that most of the plants and animals downstream died. The EPA established the Tar Creek Superfund Site to try to contain the pollution.

While residents were offered money to move away for their own safety, a few people remained in the town, until the last resident, pharmacist Gary Linderman, died in 2015, as reported by the Oklahoman. 

Picher no longer has residents, but it does receive visitors. 

“I went there once to do some urban exploring. I was there late at night and it was so eerie,” said one commenter.

The town remains as a horrifying example of what happens when industrial pollution is allowed to seep into communities and the environment. Sadly, many places in the U.S. still struggle with pollution.

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