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Chapter 14 Rex Chert member of the permian phosphoria formation: Composition, with emphasis on elements of environmental concern

January 24, 2004

We present bulk chemical and mineralogical compositions, as well as petrographic and outcrop descriptions, of rocks collected from three measured outcrop sections of the Rex Chert Member of the Phosphoria Formation in southeast Idaho. The three measured sec- tions were chosen from 10 outcrops of Rex Chert that were described in the field. The Rex Chert overlies the Meade Peak Phosphatic Shale Member of the Phosphoria Formation, the source of phosphate ore in the region. Rex Chert removed as overburden constitutes part of the material transferred to waste-rock piles during phosphate mining. It is also used to surface roads in the mining district. It has been proposed that the chert be used to cap and isolate waste piles, thereby inhibiting the leaching of potentially toxic elements into the environment. The rock samples studied here are from individual chert beds representative of each stratigraphic section sampled. The Cherty Shale Member of the Phosphoria Formation that overlies the Rex Chert in measured section 1 and the upper Meade Peak and the transition zone to the Rex Chert in section 7 were also described and sampled.

The cherts are predominantly spiculite composed of granular and mosaic quartz, and sponge spicules, with various but minor amounts of other fossils and detrital grains. The Cherty Shale Member and transition rocks between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert are siliceous siltstones and argillaceous cherts with ghosts of sponge spicules and somewhat more detrital grains than the chert. The dominant mineral is quartz. Carbonate beds are rare in each section and are composed predominantly of calcite and dolomite in addition to quartz. Feldspar, mica, clay minerals, calcite, dolomite, and carbonate fluorapatite are minor to trace minerals in the chert.

The concentration of SiO2 in the chert averages 94.6 wt.%. Organic-carbon content is generally very low, but can be as much as 1.8% in Cherty Shale Member samples and as much as 3.3% in samples from the transition between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert. Likewise, phosphate (P2O5) is generally low in the chert, but can be as much as 3.1% in individual chert beds. Selenium concentrations in Rex Chert and Cherty Shale Member samples vary from <0.2 to 138 ppm, with a mean concentration of 7.0 ppm. This mean Se content is heavily dependent on two values of 101 and 138 ppm for siliceous siltstone from the lower part of the Rex Chert, which contains rocks that are transitional in character between the Meade Peak and Rex Chert Members. Without those two samples, the mean Se concentration is < 1.0 ppm. Other elements of environmental interest, As, Cr, V, Zn, Hg, and Cd, generally occur in concentrations near or below that in average continental shale. Stratigraphic changes, equivalent to temporal changes in the depositional basin, in chem- ical composition of rocks are notable either as uniform changes through the sections or as distinct differences in the mean composition of rocks that comprise the upper and lower halves of the sections.

Q-mode factors are interpreted to represent the following rock and mineral components: chert-silica component consisting of Si (±Ba); phosphorite-carbonate fluorapatite com- ponent composed of P, Ca, As, Y, V, Cr, Sr, and La (± Fe, Zn, Cu, Ni, Li, Se, Nd, Hg); shale component composed of Al, Na, Zr, K, Ba, Li, and organic C (± Ti, Mg, Se, Ni, Fe, Sr, V, Mn, Zn); carbonate component (dolomite, calcite, silicified carbonates) composed of car- bonate C, Mg, Ca, and Si (±Mn); and, tentatively, organic matter-hosted elements (and/or sulfide-sulfate phases) composed of Cu (± organic C, Zn, Mn, Si, Ni, Hg, Li). Selenium shows a dominant association with organic matter and to lesser degrees associations with other shale components and carbonate fluorapatite. Consideration of larger numbers of factors in Q-mode analysis indicates that native Se (a factor containing Se (± Ba)) may also comprise a minor component of the Se complement.

Comparison of our data with those from newly exposed outcrops in active phosphate mines indicates that weathering of typical Rex Chert outcrops likely plays an important role in removing environmentally sensitive elements.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Chapter 14 Rex Chert member of the permian phosphoria formation: Composition, with emphasis on elements of environmental concern
DOI 10.1016/S1874-2734(04)80016-0
Authors James R. Hein, B.R. McIntyre, R.B. Perkins, David Z. Piper, J.G. Evans
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Handbook of Exploration and Environmental Geochemistry
Series Number
Index ID 70208044
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center