PHOTOS: Inside the 'most toxic city in America', where the earth is poisoned by lead and zinc

The photographer that goes under the pseudonym Seph Lawless is back at it again.

This time he’s toured Picher, Oklahoma — the most toxic city in America.

What was once a vibrant mining city has been turned into a toxic ghost town through improper care and disposal of the 14,000 abandoned mine shafts in the region.

What is left of the town is documented in Lawless’ new photo book, called The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America.

Even getting into Picher, Oklahoma is not easy. Roadblocks have been erected on roads leading to the town since it was evacuated in 2006.

The problems in Picher date all the way back to the early half of the 20th century.

The land was found to be rich in lead and zinc ore, and between 1917 and 1947 $20 billion dollars worth of the toxic materials were mined out of the Pitcher region.

In fact, the region contributed half of all lead and zinc materials used during the US's involvement in World War II.

This had devastating effects on the land and the people that lived on it.

When the mines stopped operating in 1967, they left behind this byproduct known as chat piled high like mountains across the region.

It's made up of rocky earthen waste materials which are rejected during the mining process.

100 million tons of chat are still left in the Tri-State area, which includes the former mining regions of southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma.

The mines closing meant the groundwater was no longer being pumped out of the mine shafts and away from the hazardous substances.

Eventually, the groundwater flooded the abandoned mines and mixed with the toxic materials left in the mine and reached the surface.

In 1980, the first contaminated batch of water was drawn from the town's aquifer.

The problem is so bad the whole area was declared part of the Tar Creek Superfund site, slated to be cleaned up by the EPA.

In 1982, a test of the underground aquifer showed lead and cadmium levels 5 times the national acceptable standards for drinking water.

The federal government spent the next quarter-century attempting to clean up the Picher region.

In 2006, government officials were so horrified by the condition of the extensive contamination, they declared it uninhabitable.

Due to the large amount of material taken out of the Earth by mining operations, it was found that a large number of the city's buildings were in imminent danger of caving in.

Some 1,500 residents of the town were given a government check and told to relocate.

Many families left behind clothing, furniture, and their entire homes -- unsellable with the environmental dangers.

The buildings have since decayed and are slowly crumbling.

Making matters, an EF-4 rated tornado swept through the region in 2008, killing 8 people and injuring another 150.

Its last resident, the owner and operator of the town's only pharmacy, died on June 6, 2015 from a 'sudden illness' at 60 years of age. Picher now stands as an eerie ghost town, devoid of human life.

The EPA has since called it 'the most toxic place in America.'

During Lawless' trip, he recalls how eerie the town was to photograph.

'I was terrified. I remember trying to relax my hands because they were shaking so badly,' Lawless told us.

At one point, a part of pavement Lawless stepped on gave way, opening up a small sinkhole.

'I kept thinking the earth could open up any minute and swallow me and no one would ever know,' Lawless says. 'At one point my foot went through the ground and I fell to the ground thinking I was going to cave in and die.'

Soon after, a storm cell developed over the region and it was time for Lawless to go.

'I looked up and just started driving in the opposite direction just to avoid the storm since it was tornado season, Lawless told us.

'I was just going as fast as I could to get away from it.'

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