During July and August of 2006, 117 solid-phase samples were collected from abandoned uranium waste dumps, geologic background sites, and adjacent streambeds in the San Rafael Swell, in southeastern Utah. The objective of this sampling program was to assess the nonpoint source chemical loading potential to ephemeral and perennial watersheds from uranium waste dumps on Bureau of Land Management property. Uranium waste dump samples were collected using solid-phase sampling protocols. After collection, solid-phase samples were homogenized and extracted in the laboratory using a field leaching procedure. Filtered (0.45 micron) water samples were obtained from the field leaching procedure and were analyzed for Ag, As, Ba, Be, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, U, V, and Zn at the Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry Metals Analysis Laboratory at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah and for Hg at the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory, Denver, Colorado.
For the initial ranking of chemical loading potential of suspect uranium waste dumps, leachate analyses were compared with existing aquatic life and drinking-water-quality standards and the ratio of samples that exceeded standards to the total number of samples was determined for each element having a water-quality standard for aquatic life and drinking-water.
Approximately 56 percent (48/85) of the leachate samples extracted from uranium waste dumps had one or more chemical constituents that exceeded aquatic life and drinking-water-quality standards. Most of the uranium waste dump sites with elevated trace-element concentrations in leachates were along Reds Canyon Road between Tomsich Butte and Family Butte. Twelve of the uranium waste dump sites with elevated trace-element concentrations in leachates contained three or more constituents that exceeded drinking-water-quality standards. Eighteen of the uranium waste dump sites had three or more constituents that exceeded trace-element concentrations for aquatic life water-quality standards. The proximity of the uranium waste dumps in the Tomsich Butte area near Muddy Creek, coupled with the elevated concentration of trace elements, increases the offsite impact potential to water resources. Future assessment and remediation priority of these areas may be done by using GIS-based risk-mapping techniques, such as Sensitive Catchment Integrated Mapping and Analysis Project.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Assessment of Nonpoint Source Chemical Loading Potential to Watersheds Containing Uranium Waste Dumps Associated with Uranium Exploration and Mining, San Rafael Swell, Utah