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By Kyle E. Juracek
For about 100 years (1850–1950), the Tri-State Mining District in parts
of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma was one of the
primary sources of lead and zinc ore in the world. The mining activity in the
Tri-State District has resulted in substantial historical and ongoing input
of cadmium, lead, and zinc to the environment including Empire Lake in Cherokee
County, southeast Kansas. The environmental contamination caused by the decades
of mining activity resulted in southeast Cherokee County being listed on the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List as a superfund
hazardous waste site in 1983. To provide some of the information needed to support
efforts to restore the ecological health of Empire Lake, a 2-year study was
begun by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. A combination of
sediment-thickness mapping and bottom-sediment coring was used to investigate
sediment deposition and the occurrence of cadmium, lead, zinc, and other selected
constituents in the bottom sediment of Empire Lake.
The total estimated volume and mass of bottom sediment in Empire Lake were 44 million cubic feet and 2,400 million pounds, respectively. Most of the bottom sediment was located in the main body and the Shoal Creek arm of the reservoir. Minimal sedimentation was evident in the Spring River arm of the reservoir. The total mass of cadmium, lead, and zinc in the bottom sediment of Empire Lake was estimated to be 78,000 pounds, 650,000 pounds, and 12 million pounds, respectively.
In the bottom sediment of Empire Lake, cadmium concentrations ranged from 7.3 to 76 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram) with an overall median concentration of 29 mg/kg. Compared to an estimated background concentration of 0.4 mg/kg, the historical mining activity increased the median cadmium concentration by about 7,200 percent. Lead concentrations ranged from 100 to 950 mg/kg with an overall median concentration of 270 mg/kg. Compared to an estimated background concentration of 33 mg/kg, the median lead concentration was increased by about 720 percent as a result of mining activities. The range in zinc concentrations was 1,300 to 13,000 mg/kg with an overall median concentration of 4,900 mg/kg. Compared to an estimated background concentration of 92 mg/kg, the median zinc concentration was increased by about 5,200 percent. Within Empire Lake, the largest sediment concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc were measured in the main body of the reservoir. Within the Spring River arm of the reservoir, increased concentrations in the downstream direction likely were the result of tributary inflow from Short Creek, which drains an area that has been substantially affected by historical lead and zinc mining.
Compared to nonenforceable sediment-quality guidelines, all Empire Lake sediment samples (representing 21 coring sites) had cadmium concentrations that exceeded the probable-effects guideline (4.98 mg/kg), which represents the concentration above which toxic biological effects usually or frequently occur. With one exception, cadmium concentrations exceeded the probable-effects guideline by about 180 to about 1,400 percent. With one exception, all sediment samples had lead concentrations that exceeded the probable-effects guideline (128 mg/kg) by about 10 to about 640 percent. All sediment samples had zinc concentrations that exceeded the probable-effects guideline (459 mg/kg) by about 180 to about 2,700 percent.
Overall, cadmium, lead, and zinc concentrations in the bottom sediment of Empire Lake have decreased over time following the end of lead and zinc mining in the area. However, the concentrations in the most recently deposited bottom sediment (determined for 4 of 21 coring sites) still exceeded the probable-effects guideline by about 440 to 640 percent for cadmium, about 40 to 80 percent for lead, and about 580 to 970 percent for zinc. The decrease in concentrations primarily was characterized by a pronounced pre-1954 decline after which time the concentrations remained relatively stable.
Above-background concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc were measured for soil samples collected from the flood plain adjacent to the Spring River and Shoal Creek arms of Empire Lake as well as for a soil sample of the submerged flood plain in the main body of Empire Lake. For all three trace elements, concentrations in the flood-plain soil samples were similar to or larger than the threshold-effects guidelines, which represent the concentrations above which toxic biological effects occasionally occur. For the submerged flood-plain soil sample, concentrations of all three trace elements exceeded the probable-effects guideline. Likewise, concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc in exceedance of the probable-effects guidelines were measured for recently deposited channel-bed sediment in the Spring River immediately downstream from Empire Lake. Thus, mining-related cadmium, lead, and zinc contamination in the vicinity of Empire Lake was not confined to the reservoir bottom sediment. Some of the contaminated sediment transported through Empire Lake will be deposited in downstream environments likely as far as Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Oklahoma.
Juracek, K.E., 2006, Sedimentation and Occurrence and Trends of Selected Chemical Constituents in Bottom Sediment, Empire Lake, Cherokee County, Kansas, 1905-2005: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5307, 79 p.
Kyle E. Juracek
U.S. Geological Survey
Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049-3839
Telephone: (785) 832-3527
Fax: (785) 832-3500
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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