Frohner Meadows, an area of low-topographic gradient subalpine ponds and wetlands in glaciated terrane near the headwaters of Lump Gulch (a tributary of Prickly Pear Creek), is located about 15 miles west of the town of Clancy, Montana, in the Helena National Forest. Mining and ore treatment of lead-zinc-silver veins in granitic rocks of the Boulder batholith over the last 120 years from two sites (Frohner mine and the Nellie Grant mine) has resulted in accumulations of mine waste and mill tailings that have been distributed downslope and downstream by anthropogenic and natural processes.
This report presents the results of an investigation of the geochemistry of the wetlands, streams, and unconsolidated-sediment deposits and the hydrology, hydrogeology, and water quality of the area affected by these sources of ore-related metals. Ground water sampled from most shallow wells in the meadow system contained high concentrations of arsenic, exceeding the Montana numeric water-quality standard for human health. Transport of cadmium and zinc in ground water is indicated at one site near Nellie Grant Creek based on water-quality data from one well near the creek. Mill tailings deposited in upper Frohner Meadow contribute large arsenic loads to Frohner Meadows Creek; Nellie Grant Creek contributes large arsenic, cadmium, and zinc loads to upper Frohner Meadows. Concentrations of total-recoverable cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc in most surface-water sites downstream from the Nellie Grant mine area exceeded Montana aquatic-life standards. Nearly all samples of surface water and ground water had neutral to slightly alkaline pH values.
Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and zinc in streambed sediment in the entire meadow below the mine waste and mill tailings accumulations are highly enriched relative to regional watershed-background concentrations and exceed consensus-based, probable-effects concentrations for streambed sediment at most sites. Cadmium, copper, and zinc typically are adsorbed to the surface coatings of streambed-sediment grains. Mine waste and mill tailings contain high concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc in a quartz-rich matrix. Most of the waste sites that were sampled had low acid-generating capacity, although one site (fine-grained mill tailings from the Nellie Grant mine deposited in the upper part of lower Frohner Meadows) had extremely high acid-generating potential because of abundant fine-grained pyrite.
Two distinct sites were identified as metal sources based on streambed-sediment samples, cores in the meadow substrate, and mine and mill-tailings samples. The Frohner mine and mill site contribute material rich in arsenic and lead; similar material from the Nellie Grant mine and mill site is rich in cadmium and zinc.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Geochemistry of Mine Waste and Mill Tailings, Meadow Deposits, Streambed Sediment, and General Hydrology and Water Quality for the Frohner Meadows Area, Upper Lump Gulch, Jefferson County, Montana