Fluorine (F) is a widespread element that was deposited in a variety of rocks, minerals, and geologic environments in central Colorado. It occurs as a trace element, as a major component of the mineral fluorite (CaFs), and as a major economic source of fluorine in fluorspar deposits, which are massive concentrations of fluorite. This study has compiled available geochemical analyses of rocks, both unmineralized and mineralized, to determine the distribution of fluorine in specific age-lithologic categories, ranging from 1.8-giga-annum (Ga) metamorphic rocks to modern soils, throughout central Colorado. It also draws upon field studies of fluorine-rich mineral deposits, including fluorspar deposits, to decipher the nearly two-billion-year-long geologic history of fluorine in the study area, with implications for mineral-resource evaluations and exploration. The resulting compilation provides an important inventory of the naturally occurring levels and sources of fluorine that ultimately weather, erode, and become part of surface waters that are used for domestic water supplies in densely populated areas along the Colorado Front Range.
Most commonly, fluorine is a trace element in virtually all rocks in the region. In the 3,798 unmineralized rocks that were analyzed for fluorine in the study area, the average fluorine content was 1,550 parts per million (ppm). The median was 640 ppm, nearly identical to the average crustal abundance of 650 ppm, and some high-fluorine rocks in the Pikes Peak area skewed the average to a value much greater than the median. Most unmineralized age-lithologic rock suites, including Proterozoic metamorphic rocks, 1.7- and 1.4-Ga granitic batholiths, Cambrian igneous rocks, Phanerozoic sedimentary rocks, and Laramide and Tertiary igneous rocks, had median fluorine values of 400 to 740 ppm fluorine. In all suites, however, a small number of analyzed samples contained more than 1 percent (10,000 ppm) fluorine. The 1.1-Ga plutonic rocks related to the Pikes Peak batholith had a mean fluorine content of 1,700 ppm, and primary magmatic fluorite and fluorite-bearing pegmatites are common throughout that igneous mass.
Fluorine was deposited in many types of economic mineral deposits in central Colorado, and it currently is a significant trace element in some thermal springs. In the fluorspar deposits, fluorine contents were as high as 37 percent. Some fluorine-rich porphyry systems, such as Jamestown, had fluorine values that ranged from 200 ppm to nearly 37 percent fluorine, and veins in other deposits contained hydrothermal fluorite, although it was not ubiquitous. For the 495 samples from non-fluorspar mining districts (and excluding Jamestown), however, the median fluorine content was 990 ppm. This is above the crustal average but still relatively modest compared to the fluorspar deposits, and it indicates that the majority of the mineralizing systems in central Colorado did not deposit large amounts of fluorine. Nevertheless, the fluorine- and fluorite-rich mineral deposits could be used as guides for the evaluation and discovery of related but concealed porphyry and epithermal base- and precious-metal deposits.
The Cenozoic geologic history of central Colorado included multiple periods during which fluorine-bearing rocks and mineral deposits were exposed, weathered, and eroded. This protracted history has released fluorine into soils and regoliths, and modern rainfall and snowmelt interact with these substrates to add fluorine to the hydrosphere. This study did not evaluate the fluorine contents of water or make any predictions about what areas might be major sources for dissolved fluorine. However, the abundant data that are available on fluorine in surface water and ground water can be coupled with the results of this study to provide additional insight into natural sources of fluorine in domestic drinking water.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Fluorine, fluorite, and fluorspar in central Colorado
Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey
Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center