PICHER, Okla. — A photographer has captured stunning photographs of a real life ghost town — and it looks like the apocalypse.
Photographer Seph Lawless is sharing several photos of Picher, Oklahoma, which has been called the “deadliest city in America.”
Lawless said the EPA refers Picher as the most toxic place in the country and his photos capture never-before-seen images of a restricted government area.
Picher was a boom town around the time of World War I and many of the bullets fired in the war originated from lead mined in Picher. The town became one of the largest exporters of lead and zinc in the world, according to KFSM.
The byproduct of extracting the lead is a chalky, white grit called “mine tailings” or “chat.” As Picher’s population swelled, so did the piles of chat, some as high as 150 feet tall and four football fields wide.
When metal mining stopped in the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Picher a superfund site. It’s a name given to areas so polluted they’re placed on the national priority list for clean-up.
Most, if not all, the residents were unaware of the poisoning taking place. But that all changed in the mid-1990s when a school counselor learned of a link between lead and learning disabilities.
The school in Picher sat in the middle of the toxic waste dump and most were unaware that of the students tested, 46% had unsafe levels of lead in their blood. That’s 11 times greater than the state average.
On April 24, 2006, the U.S. government decided to close Picher, forcing its residents to leave, according to Lawless. He said the contamination and other environmental hazards were found to be so severe that the evacuation was mandatory.
“I believe these images offer a diagnostic to some of the country’s true ills and a haunting reminder of how destructive mankind can be, especially when we don’t respect Mother Nature,” Lawless said.