Family struggles to cope in aftermath of Tar Creek
A family struggles through lead poisoning, a botched home buyout, and crushing A family struggles through lead poisoning, a botched home buyout, and crushing misfortune in the wake of the Tar Creek Superfund site.
By Matt Carney, Staff Writer •
Modified: October 9, 2010 at 10:11 pm •
Published: October 10, 2010
MIAMI — Beneath Chad Hatfield's eyes hang heavy bags the shade of a nasty bruise. The 34-year-old's eyes don't move much when he speaks, even as he reminisces about happier times riding his bike around Cardin, a small northeast Oklahoma town where he was born and raised.“We'd go out there and ride on the upsies and downsies,” he said, seated near his parents in the living room of their house in Miami, OK.
“We'd crawl up the stone things, sit and talk, just hang out way up in the chat piles, goof off and play hide-and-go-seek out there.”Chat piles — slate-colored mounds of lead, heavy metals and other mining waste which can reach 10 stories high — populate Cardin's landscape. Hatfield suffers severe panic attacks associated with damage to his nervous system his family and doctors believe were caused by long-term exposure to lead from what is now the Tar Creek Superfund site that covers Cardin and other cities her in northeast Oklahoma. “He appears to me to have some difficulty with processing information,” said Dr. Shirley Chesnut, a family physician that has seen Hatfield several times. Chesnut has treated patients in northeast Oklahoma for 27 years. “He's even somewhat limited in his ability to do simple tasks,” she said. “He wants to work, he'd like to work, but my medical opinion is that he is unemployable,” Chesnut added.Hatfield was born two years after his parents moved into their Cardin home and well before published health studies confirmed the large proportion children in the area with high amounts of lead in their blood.“We recognized Chad had problems early,” said his father, Bob Hatfield. Chad Hatfield is aware of his condition, which his parents and Chesnut call “lead-affected.”“I get real nervous when I'm in big crowds,” Chad Hatfield said. “I get emotional really easily, more than most people. I have a tendency to lose my temper a lot easier.”Eight years ago, Hatfield was at Apostolic Faith Bible Church in Baxter Springs, Kan., when he had a panic attack. He shook and vomited all night. He struggled to drive home in the morning, and his parents took him to the hospital emergency room.“The last thing I remember was just a static in my head and telling my brother I was freaked out, ‘Make it stop, make it stop,'” he said.A doctor prescribed him a nerve medication. He's been on several different ones since.Hatfield's parents said once they were in Houston for Bob Hatfield's cancer treatment when they received a call that their son was going door to door asking for money.“He told the story that his mom and dad left him here without anything,” said Karen Hatfield, Chad's mother. “That kind of thing I can't trust Chad with … It is an insecurity, and we worry about this. We aren't getting any younger, Bob and I aren't.”‘I am being coerced into accepting the offer'Cave-ins caused by decades of mining prompted buyouts of Cardin and Picher residences and businesses.