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Chromite and other mineral deposits in serpentine rocks of the Piedmont Upland, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware

Bulletin 1082-K

By:
and

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Abstract

The Piedmont Upland in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware is about 160 miles long and at the most 50 miles wide. Rocks that underlie the province are the Baltimore gneiss of Precambrian age and quartzite, gneiss, schist, marble, phyllite, and greenstone, which make up the Glenarm series of early Paleozoic (?) age. These are intruded by granitic, gabbroic, and ultramaflc igneous rocks. Most of the ultramaflc rocks, originally peridotite, pyroxenite, and dunite, have been partly or completely altered to serpentine and talc; they are all designated by the general term serpentine. The bodies of serpentine are commonly elongate and conformable with the enclosing rocks. Many have been extensively quarried for building, decorative, and crushed stone. In addition, chromite, titaniferous magnetite, rutile, talc and soapstone, amphibole asbestos, magnesite, sodium- rich feldspar (commercially known as soda spar), and corundum have been mined or prospected for in the serpentine.

Both high-grade massive chromite and lower grade disseminated chromite occur in very irregular and unpredictable form in the serpentine, and placer deposits of chromite are in and near streams that drain areas underlain by serpentine. A group of unusual minerals, among them kammererite, are typical associates of high-grade massive chromite but are rare in lower grade deposits.

Chromite was first discovered in the United States at Bare Hills, Md., around 1810. Between 1820 and 1850, additional deposits were discovered and mined in Maryland and Pennsylvania, including the largest deposit of massive chromite ever found in the United States the Wood deposit, in the State Line district. A second period of extensive chromite mining came during the late 1860's and early 1870's.

Production figures are incomplete and conflicting. Estimates from the available data indicate that the aggregate production from 27 of 40 known mines before 1900 totaled between 250,000 and 280,000 tons of lode-chromite ore; information is lacking for the other 13. Placer deposits produced considerably more than 15,000 tons of chromite concentrates. Exploratory work in several of the mines and placer deposits during World War I produced about 1,500 long tons of chromite ore, 920 tons of which was sold.

Most of the chromite from Maryland and Pennsylvania was used to manufacture chemical compounds, pigments, and dyes before metallurgical and refractory uses for chromite were developed. Available analyses of the ores indicate that they would satisfy modern requirements for chemical-grade chromite. With the exception of such deposits as the Line Pit and Red Pit mines, the chromite contains too much iron for the best metallurgical grade, but many would be satisfactory low-grade metallurgical chromite. Perhaps 30,000 to 50,000 tons of chromite concentrates that would range from 30 to 54 percent Cr2O3 could be obtained from placer deposits in the State Line and Soldiers Delight districts. A small tonnage of chromite remains in dumps at six of the old mines. Lode and placer deposits in the Philadelphia district, placers in Montgomery County, Md., and possible downward extensions of known ore bodies below the floors of high-grade mines now flooded have not been completely explored. Although other chromite deposits probably lie concealed at relatively shallow depths, no practical method of finding them has been developed.

Small deposits of titaniferous iron ore in serpentine were mined for iron before 1900, but the titanium content troubled furnace operators. Ore bodies are similar in occurrence to chromite deposits; they are massive or disseminated and are found near the edges of serpentine intrusive rocks. The small size of the deposits and comparatively low titanium content limit their importance as a potential source of titanium.

A single rutile deposit in Harford County, Md., has been prospected but not mined. Pockets in schistose chlorite rock, probably altered from pyroxenite, contain as much as 16 percent rutile and average 8 percent. Rutile-bearing rock has been proved to a depth of about 58 feet.

Talc and soapstone deposits that have been worked in the State Line and Jarrettsville-Dublin districts are the result of steatitization of serpentine at its contact with intrusive sodium-rich pegmatites. Deposits in the Marriottsville and Philadelphia districts seem to be related to shear or crush zones in the serpentine, which served as channelways for steatitizing solutions. Massive soapstone was extensively used in the 19th century for furnace, fireplace, and stove linings and for washtubs and bathtubs. Every year from 1906 until 1960 talc and soapstone have been produced from one or more of the deposits in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Deposits near Dublin and Marriottsville, Md., have produced steadily for years and production continues. Lava-grade steatite from Dublin, Md., is manufactured into ceramic products for electrical and refractory purposes.

Slip-fiber amphibole asbestos deposits were known in the area as early as 1837, but early production was limited. The product was used mostly for linings of safes, boiler covers, and paints. During World War I the demand for domestic asbestos for chemical filters led to further development of deposits in Maryland. Between 1916 and 1940 many small veins of good-quality tremolite and anthophyllite were mined, and the fiber was prepared for market at Woodlawn, Md. Only the upper parts of veins, softened by weathering, were usable. Because prospecting was reportedly fairly thorough and known deposits are said to be mined out, and because demand for amphibole asbestos is limited, the possibility of future asbestos production from the area seems small, except as a byproduct of talc quarrying.

Magnesite from several mines in Pennsylvania and Maryland was much in demand between 1828 and 1871 for the manufacture of epsom salt. Exploratory work at the old Goat Hill mines in 1921 indicated that the product could not be profitably prepared for market at that time. Although reportedly high grade, the magnesite veins are thin and small in comparison with other domestic deposits.

Sodium-rich feldspar and corundum deposits occur in pegmatites that are unusual because they characteristically contain little or no quartz and mica and because, insofar as known, they are confined to serpentine rocks. Many of the known deposits of sodium-rich feldspar commercial soda-spar are reportedly mined out. It is possible, however, that other commercial deposits will be found in the area.

At various times from 1825 until about 1892 in Pennsylvania, corundum mined or found at the surface was used to meet a demand of the abrasives industry. The increased use of artificial abrasives has diminished the demand for natural corundum, and interest in the small, irregular Pennsylvania deposits is at present largely historical or mineralogical.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Chromite and other mineral deposits in serpentine rocks of the Piedmont Upland, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
Series title:
Bulletin
Series number:
1082
Chapter:
K
Year Published:
1960
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Government Printing Office
Description:
Report: vii, 126 p.; 8 Plates: 29.51 x 17.78 inches or smaller
Larger Work Type:
Report
Larger Work Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Contributions to economic geology, 1958
First page:
707
Last page:
833
Country:
United States
State:
Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania