After over 100 years of continuous activity, lead and zinc mining in the Tri-State Mining District (hereafter referred to as the TSMD) in parts of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma ended in the 1970s. The mining activity resulted in substantial historical and ongoing input of cadmium, lead, and zinc to the environment including Grand Lake O' the Cherokees (hereafter referred to as Grand Lake), a large reservoir in northeast Oklahoma. To help determine the extent and magnitude of contamination in Grand Lake, a one-year study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bottom-sediment coring at five sites was used to investigate the occurrence of cadmium, lead, zinc, and other selected constituents in the bottom sediment of Grand Lake.
Cadmium concentrations in the bottom sediment of Grand Lake ranged from 2.3 to 3.6 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram) with a median of 3.5 mg/kg (5 samples). Compared to an estimated local background concentration of 0.6 mg/kg, the historical mining activity increased cadmium concentrations by about 280 to 500 percent. Lead concentrations ranged from 35 to 102 mg/kg with a median of 59 mg/kg (50 samples). Compared to an estimated local background concentration of 20 mg/kg, the historical mining activity increased lead concentrations by about 75 to 410 percent. The range in zinc concentrations was 380 to 986 mg/kg with a median of 765 mg/kg (50 samples). Compared to an estimated local background concentration of 100 mg/kg, the historical mining activity increased zinc concentrations by about 280 to 890 percent. With the exception of the most upstream coring site, the lead and zinc depositional profiles generally were similar in terms of the range in concentrations measured and the temporal pattern observed. Depositional profiles for lead and zinc indicated mid-core peaks followed by concentrations that decreased since about the 1980s. The depositional profiles reflect the complex interaction of several factors including historical mining and related activities, mine drainage, remediation, landscape stabilization, precipitation and associated runoff, and the erosion and transport of contaminated and clean sediments within the basin.
Compared to sediment-quality guidelines, the Grand Lake samples had cadmium concentrations that were substantially less than the general probable-effects concentration (PEC) (4.98 mg/kg) and a TSMD-specific PEC (11.1 mg/kg). The PECs represent the concentration above which toxic biological effects are likely to occur. Likewise, all sediment samples had lead concentrations that were substantially less than the general PEC (128 mg/kg) and a TSMD-specific PEC (150 mg/kg). Zinc concentrations typically exceeded the general PEC (459 mg/kg), but were substantially less than a TSMD-specific PEC (2,083 mg/kg). Throughout the history of Grand Lake, lead and zinc concentrations in the deposited sediment did not approach or exceed the TSMD-specific PECs.
As of 2008, legacy effects of mining still included the delivery of contaminated sediment to Grand Lake by the Spring and Neosho Rivers. The Neosho River, with its larger flows and less-contaminated sediment, likely dilutes the load of contaminated sediment delivered to Grand Lake by the Spring River. The information contained in this report provides a baseline of Grand Lake conditions with which to compare future conditions that may represent a response to changes in mining-related activity in the Grand Lake Basin.