Two sets of samples from riverbeds and adjacent floodplains, separated by 80 river kilometers, were collected from the Clark Fork River Superfund Complex, Montana, (the largest Superfund site in the United States), and studied primarily with transmission electron microscopy (TEM) with several supporting techniques to determine heavy metal-mineral association. Seven of the eight samples studied were strongly influenced by material that once resided in mining and smelting dumps and impoundments; this material was transported downstream sometime during the last century and a half from the Butte/Anaconda areas. The eighth sample was from a deeper floodplain level and dates to premining days. The TEM observations afford a direct look, down to the nanometer level, at secondary mineral formation as a result of the breakdown of sulfides and silicates in the acid environment of this massive mine-drainage system. In the shallow, oxic floodplain sediments, heavy metals of concern in this system (As, Cu, Pb, and Zn) are taken up by the formation of sulfates (particularly Pb in jarosite), as well as hydrous metal oxides (As, Cu, Pb, and Zn in and on ferrihydrite, and a possibly new vernadite-like mineral). The oxides are long-lived in these systems, as they were also found in the anoxic riverbeds. Metals are also taken up by the formation of sulfides in sulfate-reducing environments as observed in the formation of nanoclusters of chalcopyrite and sphalerite. In all samples, clays make up between 5 and 20% of the sediment and carry significant amounts of Cu and Zn. The hydrous oxides, secondary sulfides, and clays provide several routes for metal transport downstream over long distances. Besides the potential bioavailability of heavy metals exchanged on and off the hydrous metal oxides and clays, nanometer-sized sulfides may also be highly reactive in the presence of biologic systems. Copyright ?? 2005 Elsevier Ltd.
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Direct observation of heavy metal-mineral association from the Clark Fork River Superfund Complex: Implications for metal transport and bioavailability