The distribution of Cu, Co, As and Fe was studied downstream from mines and deposits in the Idaho Cobalt Belt (ICB), the largest Co resource in the USA. To evaluate potential contamination in ecosystems in the ICB, mine waste, stream sediment, soil, and water were collected and analyzed for Cu, Co, As and Fe in this area. Concentrations of Cu in mine waste and stream sediment collected proximal to mines in the ICB ranged from 390 to 19,000 μg/g, exceeding the USEPA target clean-up level and the probable effect concentration (PEC) for Cu of 149 μg/g in sediment; PEC is the concentration above which harmful effects are likely in sediment dwelling organisms. In addition concentrations of Cu in mine runoff and stream water collected proximal to mines were highly elevated in the ICB and exceeded the USEPA chronic criterion for aquatic organisms of 6.3 μg/L (at a water hardness of 50 mg/L) and an LC50 concentration for rainbow trout of 14 μg/L for Cu in water. Concentrations of Co in mine waste and stream sediment collected proximal to mines varied from 14 to 7400 μg/g and were highly elevated above regional background concentrations, and generally exceeded the USEPA target clean-up level of 80 μg/g for Co in sediment. Concentrations of Co in water were as high as in 75,000 μg/L in the ICB, exceeding an LC50 of 346 μg/L for rainbow trout for Co in water by as much as two orders of magnitude, likely indicating an adverse effect on trout. Mine waste and stream sediment collected in the ICB also contained highly elevated As concentrations that varied from 26 to 17,000 μg/g, most of which exceeded the PEC of 33 μg/g and the USEPA target clean-up level of 35 μg/g for As in sediment. Conversely, most water samples had As concentrations that were below the 150 μg/L chronic criterion for protection of aquatic organisms and the USEPA target clean-up level of 14 μg/L. There is abundant Fe oxide in streams in the ICB and several samples of mine runoff and stream water exceeded the chronic criterion for protection of aquatic organisms of 1000 μg/L for Fe. There has been extensive remediation of mined areas in the ICB, but because some mine waste remaining in the area contains highly elevated Cu, Co, As and Fe, inhalation or ingestion of mine waste particulates may lead to human exposure to these elements.
Additional publication details
Distribution of Cu, Co, As, and Fe in mine waste, sediment, soil, and water in and around mineral deposits and mines of the Idaho Cobalt Belt, USA
Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center