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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Investigations

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

Tailings pile with a pond of red acidic water.
Tailings piles, such as this one in California Gulch, Colorado, are a source of metal-rich, acidic water in the upper Arkansas River Watershed, Colo. USGS scientists studied the occurrence of toxic metals in water, colloids, and bed sediments in the Arkansas River downstream from it's confluence with California Gulch.

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Mined watersheds in the Rocky Mountains are characterized by high altitudes, significant runoff and numerous contaminant sources dispersed through the watershed. Research on hardrock mining contamination in Rocky Mountain terrain is focused in the Arkansas River Basin. Acid mine drainage containing metals enter streams via runoff from mine wastes and tailings and ground-water pathways. The metals and acidic conditions are toxic to aquatic life. Scientists have studied contaminant source mechanisms, transport and transformation in streams, and how to use this knowledge to determine effective remedial strategies.

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