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Kansas Water Science Center

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment

U.S. Geological Survey
Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5251

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Assessment of Contaminated Streambed Sediment in the Kansas Part of the Historic Tri-State Lead and Zinc Mining District, Cherokee County, 2004

By Larry M. Pope

Abstract

The Tri-State Mining District in parts of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma was the primary source of lead and zinc ore in the world for much of its 120-year history. Commercial mining in the Kansas part of the Tri-State Mining District began in the mid-1870s and lasted until 1970. The environmental degradation caused by 100 years of mining resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listing the Cherokee County, Kansas, part of the Tri-State Mining District on its National Priority List as a superfund hazardous waste site in 1983.

To assist in the injury determination and quantification step of the natural resource damage assessment for Cherokee County, Kansas, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment conducted a two-phase study of the occurrence and distribution of contaminated streambed and lake-bottom sediment. Phase I of this study determined concentrations of 28 trace elements and nutrients in streambed sediment at 87 sampling sites in the Spring River and Tar Creek watersheds in Kansas. Phase II determined bottom-sediment concentrations and mass accumulation and historic transport of trace elements into Empire Lake, an impoundment of the Spring River. The purpose of this report is to present the results of phase I of this study. Streambed-sediment samples (98 composite samples) were collected from the upper 0.8 inch of sediment deposition, and the less than 0.063- millimeter (silt- and clay-size particles) fraction was analyzed for selected trace element and nutrient concentrations. Restricting analyses to the silt/clay fraction reduced particle-size induced variability between sampling sites and permitted direct site-to-site concentration comparisons.

Concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc had much greater ranges in concentrations than any other elements analyzed. Ranges in concentrations were 0.6 to 460 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram) for cadmium, 22 to 7,400 mg/kg for lead, and 100 to 45,000 mg/kg for zinc, with median concentrations of 13, 180, and 1,800 mg/kg, respectively. Concentrations were largest at sampling sites in the Short, Tar, and Spring Branch Creek watersheds containing the most intensively mine-affected streams. Concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc in streambed sediment from sampling sites on the Spring River increased about 18, 7, and 17 times, respectively, within its 22-mile length in the study area. This finding may explain a downward trend in mussel diversity and density over the same length of stream as determined by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc exceeded selected probable effects sediment-quality guidelines (4.98, 128, and 459 mg/kg, respectively) in 64, 56, and 75 percent of samples, respectively, from the 87 sampling sites. These guideline values are not regulatory criteria. Concentrations larger than probable effects guidelines frequently cause toxicological effects to some aquatic-life forms. Generally, 100 percent of sampling sites in the most mine-affected individual watersheds had concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc that exceeded probable effects guidelines.

Estimates of background (pre-mining) concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc in streambed sediment for streams in the study area were 0.6, 20, and 100 mg/kg, respectively. However, much of the study area may be contaminated with these trace elements from wind distribution of contaminated dust that was generated during ore milling, processing, smelting, and storage of waste material. On the basis of mollusk species diversity and abundance at sites with cadmium, lead, and zinc concentrations similar to background concentrations, it appears there is only a minimal biological effect.


Contents

Pope, Larry M., 2005, Assessment of contaminated streambed sediment in the Kansas part of the historic tri-state lead and zinc mining district, Cherokee county, 2004: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5251, 61 p.


Report Availability

A limited number of printed copies of the report are available free from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-842-9909

Printed reports also are available for a nominal fee from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Information Services
P.O. Box 25286
Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225
Phone: 1-888-ASK-USGS

NOTE: When ordering the report, please supply the report title and number, your name, and your mailing address. Thank you.

For more information about USGS studies in the Tri-State Lead and Zinc Mining District, contact:

Larry Pope
U.S. Geological Survey
Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049-3839
Telephone: (785) 832-3576
Fax: (785) 832-3500
Email: mpope@usgs.gov

For more information about USGS water resources studies in Kansas, visit the USGS Kansas Water Science Center home page: http://ks.water.usgs.gov



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