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Bulletin 2210–D
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Historic Mills and Mill Tailings as Potential Sources of Contamination in and near the Humboldt River Basin, Northern Nevada

By J. Thomas Nash

Chapter D of
Geoenvironmental Investigations of the Humboldt River Basin, Northern Nevada
Edited by Lisa L. Stillings

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Northern Nevada is one of the world’s foremost regions of gold production. The Humboldt River Basin (HRB) covers 43,500 km2 in northern Nevada (Crompton, 1995), and it is home to approximately 18 active gold and silver mines (Driesner and Coyner, 2001) among at least 55 significant metallic mineral deposits (Long and others, 1998). Many of the gold mines are along the Carlin trend in the east-central portion of the HRB, and together they have produced 50 million ounces of gold from 1962 (when the Carlin mine first opened) through April 2002 (Nevada Mining Association, 2002). Mining is not new to the region, however. Beginning in 1849, mining has taken place in numerous districts that cover 39 percent of the land area in the HRB (Tingley, 1998). In addition to gold and silver, As, Ba, Cu, Fe, Hg, Li, Mn, Mo, Pb, S, Sb, V, W, Zn, and industrial commodities such as barite, limestone, fluorite, sand and gravel, gypsum, gemstones, pumice, zeolites, and building stone, have been extracted from the HRB (McFaul and others, 2000).

Due to the large amount of historical and recent mining in the HRB, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Nevada asked the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Resources Program to conduct a series of mineral-deposit-related environmental studies in the HRB. BLM required data and geoenvironmental interpretations regarding (1) the chemical composition of water, soil, sediment, and mine waste in the HRB, (2) the natural background chemistry of these materials, and (3) how mining activities may have altered their chemistry. The paper that follows describes one of the studies conducted by the USGS Minerals Program to answer these and similar questions.

All papers within this series of investigations can be found as lettered chapters of USGS Bulletin 2210, Geoenvironmental Investigations of the Humboldt River Basin, Northern Nevada. Each chapter is available separately online.

Version 1.0

Posted September 2003

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