Factors controlling tungsten concentrations in ground water, Carson Desert, Nevada

Applied Geochemistry
By: , and 



n investigation of a childhood leukemia cluster by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that residents of the Carson Desert, Nevada, are exposed to high levels of W and this prompted an investigation of W in aquifers used as drinking water sources. Tungsten concentrations in 100 ground water samples from all aquifers used as drinking water sources in the area ranged from 0.27 to 742 μg/l. Ground water in which W concentrations exceed 50 μg/l principally occurs SE of Fallon in a geothermal area. The principal sources of W in ground water are natural and include erosion of W-bearing mineral deposits in the Carson River watershed upstream of Fallon, and, possibly, upwelling geothermal waters. Ground water in the Fallon area is strongly reducing and reductive dissolution of Fe and Mn oxyhydroxides may be releasing W; however, direct evidence that the metal oxides contain W is not available.

Although W and Cl concentrations in the Carson River, a lake, and water from many wells, appear to be controlled by evaporative concentration, evaporation alone cannot explain the elevated W concentrations found in water from some of the wells. Concentrations of W exceeding 50 μg/l are exclusively associated with Na–HCO3 and Na–Cl water types and pH > 8.0; in these waters, geochemical modeling indicates that W exhibits <10% adsorption. Tungsten concentrations are strongly and positively correlated with As, B, F, and P, indicating either common sources or common processes controlling their concentrations. Geochemical modeling indicates W concentrations are consistent with pH-controlled adsorption of W.

The geochemical model PHREEQC was used to calculate IAP values, which were compared with published Ksp values for primary W minerals. FeWO4, MnWO4, Na2WO4, and MgWO4 were undersaturated and CaWO4 and SrWO4were approaching saturation. These conclusions are tentative because of uncertainty in the thermodynamic data.

The similar behavior of As and W observed in this study suggests ground water in areas where elevated As concentrations are present also may contain elevated W concentrations, particularly if there is a mineral or geothermal source of W and reducing conditions develop in the aquifer.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Factors controlling tungsten concentrations in ground water, Carson Desert, Nevada
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2004.09.002
Volume 20
Issue 2
Year Published 2005
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 19 p.
First page 423
Last page 441
Country United States
State Nevada
Other Geospatial Carson Desert
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