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Transport and speciation of uranium in groundwater-surface water systems impacted by legacy milling operations

November 2, 2020

Growing worldwide concern over uranium contamination of groundwater resources has placed an emphasis on understanding uranium transport dynamics and potential toxicity in groundwater-surface water systems. In this study, we utilized novel in-situ sampling methods to establish the location and magnitude of contaminated groundwater entry into a receiving surface water environment, and to investigate the speciation and potential bioavailability of uranium in groundwater and surface water. Streambed temperature mapping successfully identified the location of groundwater entry to the Little Wind River, downgradient from the former Riverton uranium mill site, Wyoming, USA. Diffusive equilibrium in thin-film (DET) samplers further constrained the groundwater plume and established sediment pore water solute concentrations and patterns. In this system, evidence is presented for attenuation of uranium-rich groundwater in the shallow sediments where surface water and groundwater interaction occurs. Surface water grab and DET sampling successfully detected an increase in river uranium concentrations where the groundwater plume enters the Little Wind River; however, concentrations remained below environmental guideline levels. Uranium speciation was investigated using diffusive gradients in thin-film (DGT) samplers and geochemical speciation modelling. Together, these investigations indicate uranium may have limited bioavailability to organisms in the Little Wind River and, possibly, in other similar sites in the western U.S.A. This could be due to ion competition effects or the presence of non- or partially labile uranium complexes. Development of methods to establish the location of contaminated (uranium) groundwater entry to surface water environments, and the potential effects on ecosystems, is crucial to develop both site-specific and general conceptual models of uranium behavior and potential toxicity in affected ground and surface water environments.

Publication Year 2021
Title Transport and speciation of uranium in groundwater-surface water systems impacted by legacy milling operations
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143314
Authors Patrick A. Byrne, Christopher C. Fuller, David L. Naftz, Robert L. Runkel, Niklas J Lehto, William L Dam
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70217747
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center