Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

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Watershed Contamination from Metal and Uranium Mining

USGS scientists collecting soil samples at a mine
USGS scientists collecting soil samples inside the perimeter fence at the Canyon Mine, Arizona. The mine's headframe and mine workshop are visible in the background. Photo Credit: Kit MacDonald, U.S. Forest Service.

Watersheds affected by active or abandoned hard-rock mining often have hundreds of mining-related sites with little information on their relative significance as sources of metals to the environment. Furthermore, natural weathering of the geologic deposits, which are sought out for metal deposits, can also be a source of contamination even in the absence of mining activities.

USGS scientist collecting a water sample from a gravel bar on side of a river.
A USGS scientist collects a water sample for analysis of mineral particles known as colloids. Toxic metals (such as copper in excess) bind to the particles, which are then ingested by aquatic animals. Photo credit: Daniel Cain, USGS

The goal of this investigation is to provide the science needed to understand the actual versus perceived risk to the health of humans and other organisms exposed to contaminants related to current historic production, transportation, and storage related to mineral production to support decisions of land managers and stakeholders. The investigation's goal is realized through a series of objectives to advance the understanding of hydrologic, geochemical, biogeochemical, and biological processes that affect fate, transport, attenuation, bioavailability, and potential toxicity of metals and metalloid contamination from hard-rock and uranium mining through field and laboratory based studies.


Freshwater snail -- Lymnaea stagnalis

Study Reveals Processes that Control Uranium Bioavailability in a Freshwater Snail—Relevance to Aquatic Biota in the Grand Canyon Area

Scientists refined an existing speciation model to identify key biogeochemical processes controlling dissolved uranium bioavailability to a freshwater snail. This information is important to advance current understanding and prediction of the ecological risk posed by uranium mining to freshwater ecosystems, including federally managed lands such as in the Grand Canyon area. ...

USGS scientists collecting soil samples at a mine

U.S. Geological Survey Develops Approach to Assess Baseline Chemical and Radiological Conditions Prior to Uranium Mining near Grand Canyon National Park

USGS scientists developed an approach and collected baseline data to quantitatively assess offsite migration of mine-related contaminants and to identify critical contaminant exposure pathways that could result from uranium mining activities in the Grand Canyon region. ...

USGS scientist collecting a water sample from a gravel bar on side of a river

Mineral Particles are a Source of Dietary Metal in Streams

USGS scientists find that copper is directly absorbed from mineral particles when aquatic organisms living on the bottom of streams eat their food. ...

More Science Features


Library bookshelf


Access to all publications from this investigation.

New Publications

Upcoming Publications

  • Informing future decision-making on uranium mining--A coordinated approach to monitor and assess potential environmental impacts from uranium exploration and mining on federal lands in the Grand Canyon region, Arizona: Tillman, F.D., Hinck, J.E., Van Gosen, B.S., and Walton-Day, K., (IN PRESS).

Newly Published


Influx of Metal-Rich Groundwater from Natural  Springs (Foreground) to Cement Creek, Colorado (Background)

Photo Gallery

A collection of photos illustrating this investigation's activities.

More Information

View of Cement Creek, a mining impacted stream in Colorado

More Information on this Investigation

The research team for this investigation maintains several Web pages that contain additional information about different aspects of their research on contamination from metal and uranium mining.


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