USGS - science for a changing world

Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


Watershed Contamination from Metal and Uranium Mining

Diffusive Gradients in Thin Films (DGT) samplers deployed in High Ore Creek, Montana.
Diffusive Gradients in Thin Films (DGT) samplers deployed in High Ore Creek, Montana, accumulated dissolved metals during deployment, enabling scientists to do a time-integrated evaluation of varying concentrations of metals in the stream. Photo credit: Laurie Balistrieri, USGS.

Bibliography 858 Publications
Photo Gallery
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 [Completed]

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]

Hard Rock Mining Related Science Feature Articles

Other Program Hard Rock Mining Research

Hard Rock Mining Research Publications

Fact Sheets

New Publications

Links to other USGS Information on Hard Rock Mining Contamination

USGS Home Water Climate Change Science Systems Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Environmental Health Hazards

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information:
Page Last Modified: Monday, 25-Apr-2016 17:01:59 EDT