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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Galena, Kansas
by Anna Isaacs
Physical Geology
Fall 2010

Galena, Kansas and the Dangers of Undermining


            Named for the bluish-grey mineral found beneath its surface, Galena is the oldest mining town in southeastern Kansas. Located in the Tri-State area where Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma meet it was once part of the leading zinc mining district in the world. The discovery of surface veins of lead and zinc in 1877 led to the rapid development of the town. At the height of its mining days, the population numbered over 30,000 residents. Today its population is only slightly over 3,000.


Description: Galena, Kansas

(Galena, KS in 1989. Picture from Galena Mining and Historical Museum.)


Lead and zinc ores in the Tri-State area occur in Mississippian cherty limestone. Geological remnants of Mississippian limestone are still present in the Ozark Plateau found in this area. The oldest surface sample of Mississippian limestone in Kansas can be found at Schermerhorn Park near Galena.

Description: Limestone

(Photo courtesy of G. Manders)


            The main method of extracting the large mineral deposits beneath the town was through the use of multilevel underground mining in a room and pillar formation. Mining beneath the town continued for nearly a century, well into the 1970’s.

            While mining had been a strong source of income to the residents of Galena the problems they faced after the closing of the mines was far greater than economics. Years of underground mining had weakened the surface of the town and throughout the years sinkholes became a very ominous problem.


 Description: greenparrot mine collapse.jpg

(Photo courtesy KTKA news)


            Over a 1500 sinkholes have been reported in and around Galena. Many buildings and homes have been destroyed by these sudden collapses. The landscape of the town and surrounding area has also been greatly altered by “Chat” piles and mine tailings.


Description: before reclaimation.jpg

(Galena before Reclaimation)


Due to the mining companies that had previously operated in Galena closing the problems of dealing with these remnants of a century worth of mining fell upon the federal and local governments. When it was discovered that lead, zinc and other minerals had leeched into the city’s drinking water and local area and streams the EPA stepped in and began the “Galena Lead Mine Superfund Site”. Tests in area children had shown level 10 elevations of lead in their systems. Level 10 elevations qualify as severe lead poisoning.

            Reclaimation of the land began in 1993. After locating all of the subsidence collapses and sinkholes workers began filling them in. The end result of this massive project was to purify the land and water of the area and then replant the natural vegetation destroyed by the many years of mining.


Description: after reclaimation.jpg

(Galena after Reclaimation)


            Today the town of Galena and its surrounding area are once again safe and reverted to their natural beauty and scenery.