The geochemical and magnetic record of coal combustion products in West Virginia reservoir sediments and soils

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Western West Virginia lies downwind from numerous coal-fired power plants along the Ohio River Valley. To test whether geochemical and mineralogical impacts from these power plants are detectable on the West Virginia landscape, we obtained reservoir cores, soils, and rocks from two separate sites in West Virginia, one in Harrison County (Hinkel and Deegan Reservoirs) and the other in Roane County (Miletree Run Reservoir). Both have small drainage basins that have the effect of maximizing atmospheric inputs relative to weathering inputs. Sediments from Hinkel Reservoir were dated using the 137Cs method, and by knowledge of the age of the base of the sedimentary section. Major elements in Hinkel Reservoir sediments do not vary systematically over time, suggesting that the depositional history of these sediments has been relatively constant. In contrast, minor elements and sulfur do show dramatic shifts. Zn, Pb, As, S, Cd, Ge, and Hg all peak during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons associated with combustion processes likewise show this same behavior. Coincident with these maxima is a peak in isothermal remnant magnetization (IRM), a parameter that is proportional to magnetite abundance. We separated the magnetic fraction of the sediments and examined this fraction petrographically. It is dominated by magnetite with a spherical morphology, which is characteristic of magnetite produced by combustion processes. Chemical analyses on local rocks showed that they were not the likely source for the trace element and magnetite enrichments. To compare soils and reservoir sediments, we normalized geochemical data to Ti; the underlying assumption is that Ti will track physical inputs of soil materials into the reservoir sediments. The normalized sediment data for the elements Zn, Pb, As, and S are all higher for sediments deposited during the late 1960s and early 1970s compared to normalized soil data, implying that soils are not the source for the element enrichments. We thus attribute the enrichment to atmospheric inputs. However, a coal-burning zinc smelter within 10 km of the reservoir site that operated until 1971 may have supplied some or all of the anomalous input: There are no nearby major atmospheric pollution sites near Miletree Run Reservoir. A core from this reservoir was dated based on knowledge of the time it was impounded. Like Hinkel Reservoir, there are no systematic shifts in major element contents over its depositional history. Like Hinkel Reservoir, there are also significant shifts in trace elements and IRM that cannot be explained by local soil sources. Magnetic separates from this reservoir are also dominated by spherical combustion-produced magnetite. Covariance over the period 1930-1980 between magnetite and sulfur with US SO2 production (which comes dominantly from coal combustion) is strongly suggestive of a significant atmospheric input into Miletree Run Reservoir sediments. The nearest upwind power plants are between 50 and 75 km distant. Thus, relatively long distance transmission of particulate matter from the power plants of the Ohio River Valley is likely in this case.

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Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title The geochemical and magnetic record of coal combustion products in West Virginia reservoir sediments and soils
DOI 10.1016/S1873-9881(04)80014-2
Volume 9
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description 28 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Geochemical investigations in earth and space sciences
First page 159
Last page 186
Country United States
State West Virginia
County Harrison County
Other Geospatial Deegan Reservoir, Hinkel Reservoir
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