Historical mining activity in the Tri-State Mining District (TSMD), located in parts of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma, has resulted in a substantial ongoing input of cadmium, lead, and zinc to the environment. To provide some of the information needed to support remediation efforts in the Cherokee County, Kansas, superfund site, a 4-year study was begun in 2009 by the U.S. Geological Survey that was requested and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A combination of surficial-soil sampling and coring was used to investigate the occurrence and variability of mining-related lead and zinc in the flood plains of the Spring River and several tributaries within the superfund site. Lead- and zinc-contaminated flood plains are a concern, in part, because they represent a long-term source of contamination to the fluvial environment.
Lead and zinc contamination was assessed with reference to probable-effect concentrations (PECs), which represent the concentrations above which adverse aquatic biological effects are likely to occur. The general PECs for lead and zinc were 128 and 459 milligrams per kilogram, respectively. The TSMD-specific PECs for lead and zinc were 150 and 2,083 milligrams per kilogram, respectively.
Typically, surficial soils in the Spring River flood plain had lead and zinc concentrations that were less than the general PECs. Lead and zinc concentrations in the surficial-soil samples were variable with distance downstream and with distance from the Spring River channel, and the largest lead and zinc concentrations usually were located near the channel. Lead and zinc concentrations larger than the general or TSMD-specific PECs, or both, were infrequent at depth in the Spring River flood plain. When present, such contamination typically was confined to the upper 2 feet of the core and frequently was confined to the upper 6 inches.
Tributaries with few or no lead- and zinc-mined areas in the basin—Brush Creek, Cow Creek, and Shawnee Creek—generally had flood-plain lead and zinc concentrations (surficial soil, 6- and 12-inch depth) that were substantially less than the general PECs. Tributaries with extensive lead- and zinc-mined areas in the basin—Shoal Creek, Short Creek, Spring Branch, Tar Creek, Turkey Creek, and Willow Creek—had flood-plain lead concentrations (surficial soil, 6- and 12-inch depth) that frequently or typically exceeded the general and TSMD-specific PECs. Likewise, the tributaries with extensive lead- and zinc-mined areas in the basin had flood-plain zinc concentrations (surficial soil, 6- and 12-inch depth) that frequently or typically exceeded the general PEC. With the exception of Shoal and Willow Creeks, zinc concentrations typically exceeded the TSMD-specific PEC. The largest flood-plain lead and zinc concentrations (surficial soil, 6- and 12-inch depth) were measured for Short and Tar Creeks. Lead and zinc concentrations in the surficial-soil samples collected from the tributary flood plains varied longitudinally in relation to sources of mining-contaminated sediment in the basins. Lead and zinc concentrations also varied with distance from the channel; however, no consistent spatial trend was evident. For the surficial-soil samples collected from the Spring River flood plain and tributary flood plains, both the coarse (larger than 63 micrometers) and fine particles (less than 63 micrometers) contained substantial lead and zinc concentrations.