More than 50 percent of the lead and zinc metal used during both World Wars for bullet production was mined in Picher.
From 1917 to 1947 , Picher Oklahoma was the most productive lead-zinc mining field in the lead mining district, producing more than $20 billion worth of ore.
-leaving behind 70 million tons of mine tailings and 14,000 abandon mine shafts
Visitors to northeast Oklahoma today see beautiful and unexpected roadside geology - large white mounds of tailing left over from the mining process, known as "Chat". These white chat mounds became the adored landscape of the town. Generations of local youths spent their Saturday spare time on their knees playing in it, while teenagers (often coming from other towns, including Kansas City) rode all-terrain vehicles on these Midwestern sand dunes. They were a vacation destination of sorts.
Through the last part of the twentieth century, awareness grew of the extreme toxicity of the giant chat piles. In the 1960's, contaminated water from the mines turned the local creek red and the giant chat piles were found to be laced with lead and other poisonous chemicals. Picher's cancer levels skyrocketed.
Despite the deadly environment and lead poisoning in 34 percent of the town's children, most residents didn't leave until experts discovered the town was in imminent danger of collapsing into the mines, a legacy of more than a century of unrestricted subsurface excavation. Picher was declared too unstable for human habitation and too toxic to clean up. By 2008, an EF-4 tornado demolished what was left of the town and the city ceased operations the next year.