Assessing the State of Contamination in a Historic Mining Town Using Sediment Chemistry


The United States town of Aurora, Missouri, USA, stockpiled lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) mining wastes from the early to mid-1900s in the form of chat piles. Clean-up actions were undertaken at intervals in subsequent years including land leveling and removal of chat. This study assessed the current state of contamination by identifying areas where metals are present at toxic levels. For this purpose, stream sediment samples (N = 100) were collected over a 9 × 12 km area in and around Aurora. Their content of cadmium (Cd), Pb, and Zn were measured, and concentration maps were generated using ArcGIS to categorize affected areas. Metal concentrations varied over a wide range of values with the overall highest values observed in the north-northeast part of Aurora where abundant chat piles had been present. Comparison between observed concentrations and sediment-quality guidelines put the contaminated areas mentioned are above-toxic levels for Cd, Pb and Zn. In contrast, levels in rural areas and the southern part of Aurora were at background levels, thus posing no threat to aquatic habitats. The fact that contamination is constrained to a relatively small area can be advantageously used to implement further remediation and, by doing so, to help protect the underlying karst aquifer.


Geography, Geology, and Planning

Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title

Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology