updated 6/2/2004 3:52:03 PM ET 2004-06-02T19:52:03

Families with young children will get financial help in moving away from the Tar Creek Superfund site under legislation Gov. Brad Henry plans to sign.

The bill provides $5 million to fund voluntary relocation.

Henry, who proposed the plan in January, was to sign the bill at a 2 p.m. ceremony Wednesday on a chat pile in Picher, a town at the center of the 40 square-mile northeast Oklahoma site contaminated after decades of mining.

About 100 families in Tar Creek have children below the age of 6 and would qualify for the funding. The Legislature approved $3 million this fiscal year, and leaders pledged another $2 million next year.

Young children are believed to be most vulnerable to lead poisoning, and tests have shown that children in the area have high levels of the metal in their blood. High lead levels can stunt intellectual development.

Under the bill, the state would purchase homes from willing sellers at prices based on the average cost of comparable housing elsewhere in Ottawa county. Renters would receive help finding and financing housing outside the former mining region.

The area is marred by mountains of lead and zinc mining waste called chat, abandoned mine shafts and sink holes. Acidic mine runoff has stained Tar Creek, which runs through the area, a rusty orange.

U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, D-Okla., has proposed a federal buyout of residents in Tar Creek, but Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, opposes the plan.

Instead, Inhofe wants $45 million in federal spending to clean up the outer rim of the site and has teamed with Cherokee Investment Partners of Raleigh, N.C., for a voluntary, private buyout.

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $100 million cleaning up Tar Creek since 1995, largely replacing topsoil in yards and school playgrounds in Picher and Cardin.

That is the same cost the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it would cost to buy out the towns of Picher and Cardin, the community of Hockerville and other land in the Superfund site.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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