At its peak, Picher’ mills processed nearly 5,000 tons of raw ore a day. They crushed the ore into fine grains and melted it in giant smelter to filter away the impurities. Only a fraction of the melted ore produced actual valuable minerals. The useless residue, contaminated with toxic metals, were piled up outside the mines until it created a 7,000-acre ridge containing 70 million tons of mine tailings, and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge. This fine-grained mine tailings known as chat, blew all over the town and people breathed them in. When it rained, the runoff from the chat piles got into the local water supply.
The final blow came in 2008, when a tornado ripped across the town killing eight people and causing extensive damage. Rebuilding Picher was now out of question. The only option left was to leave it behind.