Environmental Science

A Gold Mine of Difficulties

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Science  30 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5513, pp. 2519
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5513.2519b

Many of the world's most polluted sites, including many Superfund sites in the United States, lie downstream of abandoned mines. Abundant heavy-metal pollution in ground and surface waters can damage ecosystems severely, and recovery of these systems has been problematic.

Marcus et al. describe some of the hurdles in improving the condition of Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone National Park. (Concern about pollution has led to protests against renewing gold mining in drainages entering the park.) This creek, in the northern part of the park, drains a mining district that is just outside park boundaries and was abandoned in 1953. The authors found that, in the mine district and floodplain of the river, metal tailings that are not covered by vegetation provide continuous sources of pollution. Major recent floods, including a 100-year flood, had little effect on mitigating in-stream pollution. Similar processes may hinder the recovery of other areas affected by mining. — BH

Geology29, 355 (2001).

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