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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting Charleston South Carolina March 8-12,1999--Volume 1 of 3--Contamination From Hard-Rock Mining, Water-Resources Investigation Report 99-4018A

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Oxygen Isotopes of Dissolved Sulfate as a Tool to Distinguish Natural and Mining-Related Dissolved Constituents

By Winfield G. Wright and D. Kirk Nordstrom

This report is available in pdf format: pdf wright.pdf 62KB


Natural and mining-related dissolved-constituent concentrations need to be distinguished in a watershed affected by abandoned mines to prioritize subbasins for remediation and to assist with the establishment of water-quality standards. The oxygen isotopes of dissolved sulfate can be used to distinguish between natural and mining-related sources of dissolved constituents. Several methods employing the oxygen isotopes of dissolved sulfate can be used to determine the relative amounts of natural and mining-related dissolved constituents in water: (1) the isotope-dilution equation for simple mixing zones (two sources and one receiving stream); (2) the isotope mass-balance equation for streams receiving dissolved sulfate from multiple geologic sources; and (3) graphical relations and the mathematical solution of simultaneous equations in a watershed approach. Using the different methods for data collected during low flow, about 71 to 75 percent of the dissolved-constituent concentrations are from natural sources in selected subbasins of the upper Animas watershed.

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