Blackwell Zinc Smelter Site, Soil Program and Groundwater Remediation Units

About these cleanup sites

Site Information (click to expand)

Blackwell Zinc Smelter Site:

Location: Blackwell, Kay County, Oklahoma

Latitude/Longitude: 36°48’28.1″N, 97°18’30.4″W

Section, Township and Range: Section 21, Township 27N, Range 1W

Legal Description: West Blackwell Industrial Park, 2nd Addition, City of Blackwell

Site Type: Smelter

Area: 160 acres

Voluntary Cleanup Program: Consent Order 92-201 (1992)

Current Status: Cleanup complete

Blackwell Soil Program:

Location: Blackwell, Kay County, Oklahoma

Section, Township and Range: Township 27N, Range 1W, Sections 15, 21, 22, 23, 26, and 27

Site Type: High access and residential yard cleanups

Area: Physical bounds are the city limits of Blackwell

Voluntary Cleanup Program: Consent Order 92-201 (1992)

Current Status: All formal phases of cleanup have been completed but not all property owners in Blackwell allowed access for soil sampling and cleanup.  Property owners in Blackwell should check with Jordan Sisson, Blackwell Zinc Company, to determine cleanup status of their properties.

Jordan Sisson’s contact information:

  • (580) 718-1803
  • Email (preferred): Jsisson@fmi.com

Blackwell Groundwater Remediation Unit (GRU):

Location: Blackwell, Kay County, Oklahoma

Section, Township and Range: Township 27N, Range 1W, Section 21, 22, 23, and 27

Site Type: Shallow groundwater beneath the City of Blackwell

Area: Approximately 822 acres

Voluntary Cleanup Program: Consent Order 92-201 (1992)

Current Status: Active

Click to View Interactive Site Map

Contact Information (click to expand)

Cleanup Oversight Agency: DEQ

Responsible Agency: Blackwell Zinc Company (BZC)

Office: DEQ, Land Protection Division, (405) 702-5100

DEQ Blackwell Soil Project Manager: Hal Cantwell, (405) 702-5139

DEQ Blackwell GRU Project Manager: Kelsey Bufford, (405) 702-5184

DEQ Press Contact: Erin Hatfield, (405) 702-7119

Site History/Background (click to expand)

Site History and Background:

The Blackwell Zinc Company (BZC) history began in 1915.  To build the smelter, equipment and material were brought from the closing Collinsville Smelter.  When full operation of the smelter began in December of 1916, it was the largest multi-condenser horizontal retort plant in the nation and, in one report, the world.  At its peak in the 1960’s, it produced 93,700 tons of zinc in a year and employed more than 800 workers.  Much of the ore it processed came from the Tri-State District mines in the Picher, Cardin, and Commerce, Oklahoma area.

When BZC shut down the plant in 1974, it dismantled the furnace blocks, the 400-foot-tall smokestack, all other buildings and structures, and donated the land to the Blackwell Industrial Authority (BIA), a municipal trust of the State of Oklahoma whose sole beneficiary is the City of Blackwell.  The BIA developed the former smelter property as an industrial park.  The former smelter property, which is currently known as the Blackwell Industrial Park (BIP), consists of approximately 160 acres located one mile west of downtown Blackwell.

Cleanup Information (click to expand)

Cleanup History:

In 1992, soil sampling investigations indicated that former smelter operations had resulted in the release of lead, cadmium, and arsenic.  Historic sources of the metal in the Soil Remediation Unit (SRU) include ore concentrates delivered by rail car, dust from the transport/storage of ore concentrates and solid waste at the facility, emissions from roasting and smelting processes, airborne particulates from smelting and sintering processes, and various solid waste materials (e.g., retort and sinter residues, slag, crushed retorts and condenser sands).  Smelter residue also was reportedly used in some locations within the Blackwell area as fill material.  A Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) was signed in 1992 between Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), Blackwell Zinc Company and Blackwell Industrial Authority to investigate and remediate smelter impacts to the properties making up the former smelter and the yards in the City of Blackwell.

In addition to soil impacts, investigations of groundwater beneath the City of Blackwell indicated that the groundwater had also been affected by historic smelter operations.  Some of the impacted groundwater was historically captured by infiltration into leaking sanitary sewer lines and storm drains.  Cadmium and zinc are the main chemical of concern in the groundwater.  The primary source of cadmium and zinc released to the groundwater was residual water that was used in the cadmium recovery process at the former smelter from the 1950s to the early 1970s.

Along with the 1992 Consent Agreement, DEQ entered into a Consent Order in June 2000 with the City of Blackwell (including Phelps Dodge Corporation), which required the parties to address the outstanding remediation issues for Blackwell, particularly those related to the GRU.  After further groundwater investigations, the City of Blackwell and Phelps Dodge Corporation proposed, and DEQ accepted, a plan for action for remediating the groundwater.

Cleanup Status:

Blackwell Smelter Site:  The BZC smelter site buildings were demolished and the site graded when the facility closed.  The former smelter property, now the BIP, has been developed for industrial use and has numerous commercial and industrial buildings on the property.  BIP cleanup work was initiated in April 1998 and was substantially completed in November 1999.  Cleanup work included consolidation and capping of contaminated material.

Blackwell Soil Program:  In April 1996, DEQ issued a Record of Decision (ROD) selecting a remedy for the Blackwell soils cleanup.  The selected plan established soil cleanup levels for lead, arsenic, and cadmium.  The Soil Remediation Unit (SRU) program included sampling all private properties in Blackwell to determine the extent of contamination and then removal of soils that exceed the set cleanup levels.  House dust abatement was also offered as part of the remedy.  Property investigation and remediation began in April 1998.  In addition to the SRU remedial action, the Supplemental Soil Program (SSP), the Coffey Settlement and the Briggs Settlement cleanup actions have also been completed.  In May 2016, DEQ issued an Explanation of Significant Differences to the SRU ROD which changed the residential lead cleanup number from 750 ppm to 540 ppm.  As a result, additional yards areas were remediated under the SRU.

Blackwell Groundwater Remediation Unit:  DEQ selected a remedy for the Groundwater Remediation Unit (GRU) and memorialized its decision in the form of the Record of Decision (ROD) that was executed in August 2003.  In accordance with the ROD, BZC prepared a Remedial Design Report for the GRU.  As prescribed in the ROD and the Remedial Design Report, the primary components of the selected remedy for the GRU include groundwater extraction to lower the water table and limit plume migration, with ex situ treatment of the extracted groundwater, in conjunction with institutional controls. The GRU remedy remains active.

Did you Know?

The plant was the subject of a $4.8 million lawsuit in 1972 filed by local Blackwell residents, who charged that air pollution from the plant was endangering health and property in the area.

Land Use Restrictions and Regulatory Profile (click to expand)

Land Use Restrictions:

Institutional controls (ICs) were implemented on property owned by the BIP to limit future property land use to non-residential and to restrict excavation in the BIP.  Each parcel within the BIP has a specific remedial action, and engineering and institutional controls define maintenance and restrict the use of each parcel.  In August 2012, the City adopted an IC ordinance that imposed land use restrictions, property maintenance requirements, and soil handling requirements on property owners and anyone doing work in the City.

For the Blackwell GRU, there are three classes of institutional controls: groundwater use restrictions, public education, and monitoring.  In August 2012, the City of Blackwell adopted Ordinance No. 2801 prohibiting the existence of, or construction, drilling, or installation of, a groundwater well (with the exception of groundwater remediation wells) within the Groundwater Protection Area (GPA).  The selected remedy for the GRU includes public education and information to improve community awareness of groundwater.  Lastly, a monitoring program has been implemented to ensure that the GRU remedy achieves remediation goals and is protective of human health and the environment.

Regulatory Profile:

  • Sources of Contamination: Historical air emissions and waste material from metallic ore processing and smelting contaminated soils in the surrounding area with lead, cadmium, and arsenic
  • Contaminants of Concern: Lead, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc
  • Media Affected: Soil, sediment, and groundwater
  • Surface Water Impacted: Ferguson Avenue Tributary and the Legion Park Tributary

Read Supporting Documents