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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Research Projects

Watershed Contamination from Hard Rock Mining

A streambed coated with brown ferrous iron hydroxide precipitates.
During a pH modification experiment conducted in Mineral Creek, Colorado, the pH of the stream changed from about 3.0 to about 8.0 (acidic to mildly basic). The change in pH caused the older precipitates in the stream to be covered by a new precipitate (ferrous iron hydroxide). A solution of a base (sodium hydroxide) was injected into the stream to change the pH.

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Information on All USGS Mine Drainage Activities

Watersheds affected by active and/or abandoned hard rock mining (HRM) often have hundreds of mining-related sites with little information on their relative significance as sources of metals contamination and acid mine drainage. Furthermore, natural weathering of the geologic deposits, which are sought out for metal deposits, can be a source of contamination even in the absence of mining activities. The nature of such distributed natural and anthropogenic sources makes a traditional site by site cleanup approach grossly inefficient and likely ineffective.

The overall goal of HRM research is to provide improved information and tools to support decisions related to management, risk assessment, remediation planning, and mitigation of the anthropogenic effects of mine drainage on the surrounding watersheds and ecosystems. The principal research objectives are to a) characterize hydrologic and biogeochemical processes that affect dispersal of metals and associated contaminants and b) describe contaminant pathways to organisms. Current research expands on previous Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program hard rock research by including investigations across broader temporal and spatial scales and by integrating research on bioaccumulation and the effects of metal contamination on organisms with investigations on biogeochemical and hydrologic processes that affect transport and fate of metals in streams and near-stream ground-water systems. Two guiding principles of the research are (1) interdisciplinary coordination to integrate all factors and processes that control the affects of HRM on watersheds and ecosystems from source to receptors, and (2) synthesis of interdisciplinary knowledge across scales to make relevant to the practical management decision making, including liaison with land management agencies for technology transfer and effective identification of science needs.

Project activities are undertaken in watersheds with various types of climate, hydrogeology and mining techniques:

Hardrock Mining in Rocky Mountain Terrain -- Upper Arkansas River, Colorado

Hardrock Mining in Southwest Alluvial Basins -- Pinal Creek, Arizona

Ground-Water Contamination by Heavy Metals -- Tar Creek, Oklahoma

USGS Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative -- Upper Animas River Watershed, Colorado, and Boulder River Watershed, Montana

Arsenic Contamination from Hard Rock Mining -- Whitewood Creek-Belle Fourche River, South Dakota [Completed]

The Summitville Mine and its Downstream Effects [Completed]

Program Headlines on Hard Rock Mining Related Research

Other Program Hard Rock Mining Research

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Meetings and Conferences

New Publications

Upcoming Publications

  • Sampling and monitoring program implementation (Chapter 7): Russell, C.C., S., S.K., and McLemore, V.T., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • The planning process (Chapter 5): Russell, C.C., S., S.K., and McLemore, V.T., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • Decision making, risk, and uncertainty as the basis of international sampling and monitoring guidance (Chapter 4): Russell, C.C., S., S.K., and McLemore, V.T., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • Biogeochemical aspects of uranium mineralization, mining, milling, and remediation: Campbell, K.M., Gallegos, T.J., and Landa, E.R., in Environmental Geochemistry for Modern Mining--Reviews in Economic Geology, Society of Economic Geologists (SEG) (IN PRESS).
  • St. Kevin Gulch Watershed Study Area (Appendix 5): Walton-Day, K., and Kimball, B.A., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • Sampling and monitoring program implementation (Chapter 6): Russell, C.C., S., S.K., and McLemore, V.T., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • Laboratory studies of biostimulated uranium reduction by ISR aquifer sediments and suboxic remobilization of sequestered uranium, (Chapter 3): Fuller, C.C., and Akstin, K.C., in Assessing the Potential for Biorestoration of Uranium In Situ Recovery Sites: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission NUREG-CR (IN PRESS).
  • Diel cycling of trace elements in streams draining mineralized areas: Gammons, C.H., Nimick, D.A., and Parker, S.R., in Environmental Geochemistry for Modern Mining, in Reviews in Economic Geology, Littleton, Colo., Society of Economic Geologists (IN PRESS).
  • Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series: McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc., (8 chapters, 6 appendices) (IN PRESS).
  • Sampling considerations in the mining environment (Chapter 3): Smith, K.S., McLemore, V.T., and C.C., R., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).
  • Sampling and monitoring during the phases of mining (Chapter 2): McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., in McLemore, V.T., Smith, K.S., and Russell, C.C., eds., Environmental Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle--Management Technologies for Metal Mining Influenced Water Series, Englewood, Colo., Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc. (IN PRESS).

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