The Pike Hill Copper Mine Superfund Site in the Vermont copper belt consists of the abandoned Smith, Eureka, and Union mines, all of which exploited Besshi-type massive sulfide deposits. The site was listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) National Priorities List in 2004 due to aquatic ecosystem impacts. This study was intended to be a precursor to a formal remedial investigation by the USEPA, and it focused on the characterization of mine waste, mine drainage, and stream sediments. A related study investigated the effects of the mine drainage on downstream surface waters. The potential for mine waste and drainage to have an adverse impact on aquatic ecosystems, on drinking- water supplies, and to human health was assessed on the basis of mineralogy, chemical concentrations, acid generation, and potential for metals to be leached from mine waste and soils. The results were compared to those from analyses of other Vermont copper belt Superfund sites, the Elizabeth Mine and Ely Copper Mine, to evaluate if the waste material at the Pike Hill Copper Mine was sufficiently similar to that of the other mine sites that USEPA can streamline the evaluation of remediation technologies. Mine-waste samples consisted of oxidized and unoxidized sulfidic ore and waste rock, and flotation-mill tailings. These samples contained as much as 16 weight percent sulfides that included chalcopyrite, pyrite, pyrrhotite, and sphalerite. During oxidation, sulfides weather and may release potentially toxic trace elements and may produce acid. In addition, soluble efflorescent sulfate salts were identified at the mines; during rain events, the dissolution of these salts contributes acid and metals to receiving waters. Mine waste contained concentrations of cadmium, copper, and iron that exceeded USEPA Preliminary Remediation Goals. The concentrations of selenium in mine waste were higher than the average composition of eastern United States soils. Most mine waste was potentially acid generating because of paste-pH values of less than 4 and negative net-neutralization potentials (NNP). The processed flotation-mill tailings, however, had a near neutral paste pH, positive NNP, and a few weight percent calcite. Leachate tests indicated that elements and compounds such as Al, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Se, SO4, and Zn were leached from mine waste in concentrations that exceeded aquatic ecosystem and drinking-water standards. Mine waste from the Pike Hill mines was chemically and mineralogically similar to that from the Elizabeth and Ely mines. In addition, metals were leached and acid was produced from mine waste from the Pike Hill mines in comparable concentrations to those from the Elizabeth and Ely mines, although the host rock of the Pike Hill deposits contains significant amounts of carbonate minerals and, thus, a greater acid-neutralizing capacity when compared to the host rocks of the Elizabeth and Ely deposits.
Water samples collected from unimpacted parts of the Waits River watershed generally contained lower amounts of metals compared to water samples from mine drainage, were alkaline, and had a neutral pH, which was likely because of calcareous bedrock. Seeps and mine pools at the mine site had acidic to neutral pH, ranged from oxic to anoxic, and generally contained concentrations of metals, for example, aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, and zinc, that exceeded aquatic toxicity standards or drinking-water standards, or both. Surface waters directly downstream of the Eureka and Union mines were acidic, as indicated by pH values from 3.1 to 4.2, and contained high concentrations of some elements including as much as 11,400 micrograms per liter (?g/L) Al, as much as 22.9 ?g/L Cd, as much as 6,790 ?g/L Cu, as much as 23,300 ?g/L Fe, as much as 1,400 ?g/L Mn, and as much as 3,570 ?g/L Zn. The concentrations of these elements exceeded water-quality guidelines. Generally, in surface waters, the pH increased and the concentrations of these elemen
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Geochemical Characterization of Mine Waste, Mine Drainage, and Stream Sediments at the Pike Hill Copper Mine Superfund Site, Orange County, Vermont