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Determination of premining geochemical background and delineation of extent of sediment contamination in Blue Creek downstream from Midnite Mine, Stevens County, Washington

March 8, 2008

Geochemical and radionuclide studies of sediment recovered from eight core sites in the Blue Creek flood plain and Blue Creek delta downstream in Lake Roosevelt provided a stratigraphic geochemical record of the contamination from uranium mining at the Midnite Mine. Sediment recovered from cores in a wetland immediately downstream from the mine site as well as from sediment catchments in Blue Creek and from cores in the delta in Blue Creek cove provided sufficient data to determine the premining geochemical background for the Midnite Mine tributary drainage. These data provide a geochemical background that includes material eroded from the Midnite Mine site prior to mine development. Premining geochemical background for the Blue Creek basin has also been determined using stream-sediment samples from parts of the Blue Creek, Oyachen Creek, and Sand Creek drainage basins not immediately impacted by mining. Sediment geochemistry showed that premining uranium concentrations in the Midnite Mine tributary immediately downstream of the mine site were strongly elevated relative to the crustal abundance of uranium (2.3 ppm). Cesium-137 (137Cs) data and public records of production at the Midnite Mine site provided age control to document timelines in the sediment from the core immediately downstream from the mine site. Mining at the Midnite Mine site on the Spokane Indian Reservation between 1956 and 1981 resulted in production of more than 10 million pounds of U3O8. Contamination of the sediment by uranium during the mining period is documented from the Midnite Mine along a small tributary to the confluence of Blue Creek, in Blue Creek, and into the Blue Creek delta. During the period of active mining (1956?1981), enrichment of base metals in the sediment of Blue Creek delta was elevated by as much as 4 times the concentration of those same metals prior to mining. Cadmium concentrations were elevated by a factor of 10 and uranium by factors of 16 to 55 times premining geochemical background determined upstream of the mine site. Postmining metal concentrations in sediment are lower than during the mining period, but remain elevated relative to premining geochemical background. Furthermore, the sediment composition of surface sediment in the Blue Creek delta is contaminated. Base-metal contamination by arsenic, cadmium, lead, and zinc in sediment in the delta in Blue Creek cove is dominated by suspended sediment from the Coeur d?Alene mining district. Uranium contamination in surface sediment in the delta of Blue Creek cove extends at least 500 meters downstream from the mouth of Blue Creek as defined by the 1,290-ft elevation boundary between lands administered by the National Park Service and the Spokane Indian Tribe. Comparisons of the premining geochemical background to sediment sampled during the period the mine was in operation, and to the sediment data from the postmining period, are used to delineate the extent of contaminated sediment in Blue Creek cove along the thalweg of Blue Creek into Lake Roosevelt. The extent of contamination out into Lake Roosevelt by mining remains open.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2008
Title Determination of premining geochemical background and delineation of extent of sediment contamination in Blue Creek downstream from Midnite Mine, Stevens County, Washington
DOI 10.3133/sir20075262
Authors Stan E. Church, Frederick E. Kirschner, LaDonna M. Choate, Paul J. Lamothe, James R. Budahn, Zoe Ann Brown
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2007-5262
Index ID sir20075262
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization U.S. Geological Survey