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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

The environmental contamination associated with historic mining and milling within Nelson, Nevada, USA

Executive Summary
ResearchersD.B. Sims, CEESR
P.S Hooda, CEESR
G. Gillmore, CEESR
Funding Body/SourceKingston University
Duration2007 - 2010
Project SummaryResearch aims:
The overall aim of this research is to investigate the extent of contamination related to historic mining and milling sites within the area of Nelson Nevada.

The approaches are deigned to address the following research questions:
(1) What is the extent of contamination of soils from naturally occurring metals that were concentrated during the mining and milling process employed during the time of operation?
(2) Has the concentration of naturally occurring metals changed the solubility of such metals and possibly change the mobility of the contaminants?
(3) What extent, if any, has contaminated soil moved down gradient and what is the form of transport?
(4) Are metal concentrations in the soils around such historic mining sites within regulatory guidelines?
(5) Are water sources such as groundwater and Lake Mojave located down gradient at risk of contamination from the transport of this material?
(6) What is the quality of sediments in terms of various regulatory and environmental guide values for metals and phosphorus?

Background

The present study focuses on the potential environmental hazards of historic mining within Nelson, Nevada. Historic mining practices in this area included extraction processes that produced large quantities of naturally occurring heavy metals due to concentration techniques utilizing cyanide, acids, bases and solvents. The migration of contaminants via ephemeral washes, surface waters, storm events, wind, and by construction activities has a great potential of transporting contamination to the surrounding environments at historic mining and milling sites, like the ones found scattered around the area of Nelson, Nevada. A preliminary study investigated several sites within Nelson, Nevada which were found to which found significant contamination of soils surrounding these sites with lead, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, mercury, silver, barium, chromium, and cyanide. If a major storm event were to occur in the valleys above the lake like in 1974, the amount of contaminated soils entering the lake could be a potential problem in drinking water. Finally, the potential contamination of soils at the milling sites located in Nelson, Nevada may pose a significant problem to residential wells, livestock, and a major source of drinking water for the southwestern United States (Lake Mojave). Clearly there is a need to assess the extent of contaminants spread and risk they pose to the wider environment.

Publications

Sims, DB and Francis AW (2008). Mercury and Cyanide used as Indicators of Sediment Transport in Ephemeral Washes at the Techatticup Mine and Mill Site, Nelson, Nevada (USA). International Journal of Soil, Sediment and Water, vol. 1, no 2.

Sims, DB and Bottenberg BC (2008). Arsenic and Lead Contamination in Wash Sediments at Historic Three Kids Mine- Henderson, Nevada: The environmental hazards Associated with Historic Mining Sites and Their Possible Impact on Water Quality. The Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science, vol. 40, issue 1.

Sims, DB and Bottenberg BC (2007). Environmental Hazards Associated with Historic Mining on Water Quality in Nelson, Nevada: A Test Case for Environmental Issues Associated with Historic Mining in Nevada. Journal of the Nevada Water Resources Association, vol. 4, issue 2.

Conference Presentations

Sims, DB (2008). Heavy Metal Contaminated Soils Transported in surface Sediments in Three Ephemeral Washes, Nelson, Nevada (USA). The 24thAnnual International Conference on Contaminated Soils, Sediments, and Water. Amherst, MA (USA) October, 2008. [Poster]

Sims, DB (2009). Contamination of Ephemeral Washes as a result of Abandoned Mines in Nelson, Nevada (USA). SME Annual Meeting & Exhibit & CMA 111th National Western Mining Conference. Denver, CO (USA), page 88, February, 2009. [Oral Presenation]

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