Water draining from abandoned open-pit coal mines in southeastern Ohio typically has a low pH and high concentrations of Fe, Al and Mn, as well as of trace metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Ni, Co, etc.) and of the rare earth elements (REEs). The cations of different elements are sorbed selectively by Fe and Al hydroxide precipitates which form with increasing pH. As a result, the trace elements are separated from each other when the hydroxide precipitates are deposited in the channel of a flowing stream. Therefore, the low-energy environment of a stream contaminated by mine effluent is a favorable site for the chemical fractionation of the REEs and of other groups of elements with similar chemical properties. The interpretation of chemical analyses of water collected along a 30-km-stretch of Rush Creek near the town of New Lexington, Perry County, Ohio, indicates that the abundances of the REEs in the water appear to change downstream when they are normalized to the REE concentrations of the mine effluent. In addition, the Ce/La ratios (and those of all REEs) in the water decrease consistently downstream. The evidence indicates that the REEs which remain in solution are enriched La and Ce because the other REEs are sorbed more efficiently. The solid Fe(OH)3 precipitates in the channel of Rush Creek upstream of New Lexington also contain radioactive 226Ra that was sorbed from the water. This isotope of Ra is a decay product of 238U which occurs in the Middle Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous) coal and in the associated shale of southeastern Ohio. The activity of 226Ra of the Fe(OH)3 precipitates increases with rising pH, but then declines farther downstream as the concentration of Ra remaining in the water decreases.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Jerry Bigham for the X-ray diffraction patterns of ferric hydroxide precipitates in Rush Creek and some of its tributaries. We also thank Leonid Polyak for the use of the freeze-drying equipment, as well as LeeAnn Munk and Nadine Piatak for advice with the laboratory work. This study was supported by a grant to G.F. from the Water Resources Center of The Ohio State University. Comments by an anonymous reviewer and by K.H. Johannesson are gratefully acknowledged.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Geochemistry and Petrology