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Focus On Tar Creek: Making An Introductory Course Interesting

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Social Responsibility & Professionalism

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.636.1 - 10.636.6



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Paper Authors

author page

Christi Luks

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Focus on Tar Creek

Christi L. Patton University of Tulsa


Tar Creek is #1 on the EPA cleanup list and it is located about 90 miles from the University of Tulsa campus. While the legislators and residents debate what should be done to clean up the area, freshman Chemical Engineering students research the history of Tar Creek and use this as a starting point for lectures and discussion on safety, ethics and the environment. Throughout the course students perform practice calculations that are based on the information gleaned through their readings. The last weeks of the semester are spent in a research project that takes them to Tar Creek to sample the water and test the samples in a series of experiments of their own design. The students then evaluate remediation methods and propose their plan to correct the problems that they found through the experimental testing. This project gives the students a practical appreciation of safety and the environment and an opportunity to apply their skills to a real-life problem. As a result of this project, student retention was improved and students gained a lasting sense of responsibility for the global environment.


Tar Creek has received national attention since it was established as a top priority by the EPA Superfund in 1983. As such, it is an appropriate topic for an introductory course in chemical engineering that emphasizes safety, ethics and the environment. The fact that it is located a ninety minute’s drive from the University of Tulsa makes it an excellent way to blend an introduction to engineering with current events.

The Tar Creek Superfund site is named after a creek that runs through the area then into the Neosho River and on to Grand Lake. The environmental disaster is the result of abandoned lead and zinc mines in a 40 square mile area near Picher, OK. Tar Creek is only a small part of what was originally known as the Tri-State Mining District in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri where lead and zinc reserves were first discovered in 1891 and mined heavily until 1947. At the peak of activity, 23 million gallons of acidic water were pumped out of the mines each day and into the local creeks.

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Midwest Section Conference"

Luks, C. (2005, June), Focus On Tar Creek: Making An Introductory Course Interesting Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15573

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