Concerns about possible effects of lead-mining activities on the water quality of federally protected streams located in southeastern Missouri prompted a suite of multidisciplinary studies to be conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. As part of this investigation, a series of biological studies were initiated in 2001 for streams in the current mining region and the prospecting area. In this report, results are examined for trace elements and other selected chemical measurements in sediment, surface water, and sediment interstitial (pore) water sampled between 2002 and 2005 in association with these biological studies.
Compared to reference sites, fine sediments collected downstream from mining areas were enriched in metals by factors as large as 75 for cadmium, 62 for cobalt, 171 for nickel, 95 for lead, and 150 for zinc. Greatest metal concentrations in sediments collected in 2002 were from sites downstream from mines on Strother Creek, Courtois Creek, and the West Fork Black River. Sediments from sites on Bee Fork, Logan Creek, and Sweetwater Creek also were noticeably enriched in lead. Sediments in Clearwater Lake, at least 75 kilometers downstream from mining activity, had metal concentrations that were 1.5 to 2.1 times greater than sediments in an area of the lake with no upstream mining activity. Longitudinal sampling along three streams in 2004 indicated that sediment metal concentrations decreased considerably a few kilometers downstream from mining activities; however, in Strother Creek some metals were still enriched by a factor of five or more as far as 13 kilometers downstream from the Buick tailings impoundment. Compared with 2002 samples, metals concentrations were dramatically lower in sediments collected in 2004 at an upper West Fork Black River site, presumably because beneficiation operations at the West Fork mill ceased in 2000.
Concentrations of metals and sulfate in sediment interstitial (pore) waters generally tracked closely with metal concentrations in sediments. Metals, including cobalt, nickel, lead, and zinc, were elevated substantially in laboratory-produced pore waters of fine sediments collected near mining operations in 2002 and 2004. Passive diffusion samplers (peepers) buried 4 to 6 centimeters deep in riffle-run stream sediments during 2003 and 2005 had much lower pore-water metal concentrations than the laboratory-produced pore waters of fine sediments collected in 2002 and 2004, but each sampling method produced similar patterns among sites. The combined mean concentration of lead in peeper samples from selected sites located downstream from mining activities for six streams was about 10-fold greater than the mean of the reference sites. In most instances, metals concentrations in surface water and peeper water were not greatly different, indicating considerable exchange between the surface water and pore water at the depths and locations where peepers were situated.
Passive sampling probes used to assess metal lability in pore waters of selected samples during 2004 sediment toxicity tests indicated that most of the filterable lead in the laboratory-prepared pore water was relatively non-labile, presumably because lead was complexed by organic matter, or was present as colloidal species. In contrast, large percentages of cobalt and nickel in pore water appeared to be labile. Passive integrative samplers deployed in surface water for up to 3 weeks at three sites in July 2005 confirmed the presence of elevated concentrations of labile metals downstream from mining operations on Strother Creek and, to a lesser extent, Bee Fork. These samplers also indicated a considerable increase in metal loadings occurred for a few days at the Strother Creek site, which coincided with moderate increases in stream discharges in the area.