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Trace metals related to historical iron smelting at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Berks and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania

August 27, 2011

Iron ore containing elevated concentrations of trace metals was smelted at Hopewell Furnace during its 113 years of operation (1771-1883). The ore used at Hopewell Furnace was obtained from iron mines within 5 miles of the furnace. The iron-ore deposits were formed about 200 million years ago and contain abundant magnetite, the primary iron mineral, and accessory minerals enriched in arsenic, cobalt, copper, lead, and other metals. Hopewell Furnace, built by Mark Bird during 1770-71, was one of the last of the charcoal-burning, cold-blast iron furnaces operated in Pennsylvania. The most productive years for Hopewell Furnace were from 1830 to 1837. Castings were the most profitable product, especially the popular Hopewell Stove. More than 80,000 stoves were cast at Hopewell, which produced as many as 23 types and sizes of cooking and heating stoves. Beginning in the 1840s, the iron industry shifted to large-scale, steam-driven coke and anthracite furnaces. Independent rural enterprises like Hopewell could no longer compete when the iron and steel industries consolidated in urban manufacturing centers. The furnace ceased operation in 1883 (Kurjack, 1954). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the National Park Service, completed a study at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (NHS) in Berks and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania, to determine the fate of toxic trace metals, such as arsenic, cobalt, and lead, released into the environment during historical iron-smelting operations. The results of the study, conducted during 2008-10, are presented in this fact sheet.