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Kansas Geological Survey, Public Information Circular (PIC) 17
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Lead and Zinc Mining in Kansas

Liz Brosius and Robert S. Sawin


The 1870 discovery of zinc ore near Galena, Kansas, marked the beginning of a century of lead and zinc mining in the Kansas part of the Tri-State mining district (fig. 1). The Tri-State was one of the major lead and zinc mining areas in the world and included parts of southeastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, and northeastern Oklahoma. Mining in the district has ceased, but for one hundred years (1850-1950), the Tri-State produced 50 percent of the zinc and 10 per-cent of the lead in the United States.

Lead and zinc deposits in Kansas occur within the region called the Ozark Plateau in extreme southeastern Cherokee County. This region is defined by outcrops of Mississippian rocks (the oldest surface rocks in the state), which formed about 345 million years ago. The Ozark Plateau covers about 55 square miles in Kansas and includes the towns of Baxter Springs and Galena.

Mining in the Tri-State area left the environment contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, zinc, and cadmium. Flooded underground mines produce acidic water that threatens local aquifers and municipal water supplies. Tailings piles and open mine-shafts dot the landscape. Because the mining companies that once operated in the Tri-State mining district have long since disappeared, cleanup and reclamation of mined areas has become the responsibility of federal, state, and local entities.

This circular explains the history and geology of the Tri-State mining district in Kansas, the environmental consequences of lead and zinc mining, and efforts to solve some of these problems and reclaim the land.

Figure 1--The Tri-State lead and zinc mining district of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Mined areas are shown in dark blue.

Map shows zones in SE Kansas, SW Missouri, and NE Oklahoma.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach
Comments to
Web version October 2001