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Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5203

Geological Assessment of Cores from the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, New Hampshire

By Nora K. Foley, Robert A. Ayuso, Joseph D. Ayotte, Denise L. Montgomery, and Gilpin R. Robinson, Jr.

Geological sources of metals (especially arsenic and zinc) in aquifer bedrock were evaluated for their potential to contribute elevated values of metals to ground and surface waters in and around Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Ayotte and others (1999, 2003) had proposed that arsenic concentrations in ground water flowing through bedrock aquifers in eastern New England were elevated as a result of interaction with rocks. Specifically in southeastern New Hampshire, Montgomery and others (2003) established that nearly one-fifth of private bedrock wells had arsenic concentrations that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contamination level for public water supplies. Two wells drilled in coastal New Hampshire were sited to intersect metasedimentary and metavolcanic rocks in the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Bulk chemistry, mineralogy, and mineral chemistry data were obtained on representative samples of cores extracted from the two boreholes in the Kittery and Eliot Formations. The results of this study have established that the primary geologic source of arsenic in ground waters sampled from the two well sites was iron-sulfide minerals, predominantly arsenic-bearing pyrite and lesser amounts of base-metal-sulfide and sulfosalt minerals that contain appreciable arsenic, including arsenopyrite, tetrahedrite, and cobaltite. Secondary minerals containing arsenic are apparently limited to iron-oxyhydroxide minerals. The geologic source of zinc was sphalerite, typically cadmium-bearing, which occurs with pyrite in core samples. Zinc also occurred as a secondary mineral in carbonate form. Oxidation of sulfides leading to the liberation of acid, iron, arsenic, zinc, and other metals was most prevalent in open fractures and vuggy zones in core intervals containing zones of high transmissivity in the two units. The presence of significant calcite and lesser amounts of other acid-neutralizing carbonate and silicate minerals, acting as a natural buffer to reduce acidity, forced precipitation of iron-oxyhydroxide minerals and the removal of trace elements, including arsenic and lead, from ground waters in the refuge. Zinc may have remained in solution to a greater extent because of complexing with carbonate and its solubility in near-neutral ground and surface waters. A link between anomalously high arsenic contents in ground water and a bedrock source as put forward by Ayotte and others (1999, 2003) and Montgomery and others (2003) is supported by the presence of some arsenic-bearing minerals in rocks of the Kittery and Eliot Formations. The relatively low amounts of arsenic and metals in wells in the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge as reported by Ayotte and others (U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Data, 2005) were likely controlled by local geochemical environments in partially filled fractures, fissures, and permeable zones within the bedrock formations. Carbonate and silicate gangue minerals that line fractures, fissures, and permeable zones likely limited the movement of arsenic from bedrock to ground water. Sources other than the two geologic formations might have been required to account for anomalously high arsenic contents measured in private bedrock aquifer wells of Rockingham County.


SIR 2006-5203 (74 pages)  [4.54mb PDF]

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