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The phosphoria formation: A model for forecasting global selenium sources to the environment

January 1, 2004

Mining of the Permian Phosphoria Formation — a marine, oil-generating, phosphatic shale — provided the selenium (Se) source implicated in the recent deaths of livestock in southeast Idaho. Field studies and the geohydrologic balance of Se in southeast Idaho confirm risk to animals from exposure to Se through leaching of mined waste shale into streams, discharge of regional drainage, and impoundment of drainage in wetland areas. Forage grown to stabilize waste rock contoured into hills or used as cross-valley fill provides an additional mechanism of Se exposure for the environment (Mackowiak et al., Chapter 19). The average Se concentration of the Meade Peak Member of the Phosphoria Formation is an order of magnitude higher than those of other exploited marine shales that have been linked to incidences of Se toxicosis via oil refining and irrigation in the western United States.

The Phosphoria Formation accumulated in an environment that preserved organic matter and contributed to the formation of economic-grade phosphate and oil deposits. The addition of this phosphate-mining case study enables a comprehensive approach to the identification of marine sedimentary Se sources and a more complete range of ecotoxic field studies on which to establish the conditions and anthropogenic connections that determine uptake, release, and recycling of Se in food webs. A constructed conceptual model of Se pollution indicates that ancient organic-rich depositional marine basins, unre- stricted by age, are linked to the contemporary global distribution of Se source rocks. A global plot shows (a) the areal association of major basins hosting phosphate deposits and petroleum source rocks and (b) the importance of paleo-latitudinal setting in influencing the composition of the deposits. Given the geographic patterns, Se emerges as a contami- nant within specific regions of the globe that may limit phosphate mining, oil refining, and drainage of agricultural lands because of potential ecological risks to vulnerable food webs. Selenium also may serve as a geochemical exploration tool that signals an ancient productive biological environment.

Publication Year 2004
Title The phosphoria formation: A model for forecasting global selenium sources to the environment
DOI 10.1016/S1874-2734(04)80013-5
Authors Theresa S. Presser, D. Z. Piper, K. J. Bird, J. P. Skorupa, S. J. Hamilton, S. J. Detwiler, Mark Huebner
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70198693
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Western Branch; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program