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Archive for August, 2013

Old car behind the Tintic Mining Museum in Eureka, Utah.

Old car behind the Tintic Mining Museum in Eureka, Utah.

During our Intersession period between third and fourth terms, I taught a class that would help complete our study of lead contamination in the Tintic Mining District around Eureka, Utah for our American Chemical Society Hach grant. We had already visited the area three times to collect samples in the various mine dumps around the area, but we needed one more trip to collect samples from inside the town of Eureka itself. We traveled down for this last trip on Thursday, March 14, 2013. I had three students with me from Walden School: Jeffrey, Indie, and Aaron.

Aaron, Jeffrey, and Indie collecting samples of a hydrothermal vein at a road cut on Highway 6.

Aaron, Jeffrey, and Indie collecting samples of a hydrothermal vein at a road cut on Highway 6.

We had scoped out the town and decided to collect at ten locations in the town and at least one location further southwest outside the entire district as controls. The town was cleaned up by the EPA as a superfund project, and $26 million was spent to dig up contaminated topsoil in sensitive areas, such as playgrounds, the baseball field, and lawns at the high school. Other areas have been covered with limestone fragments, or rip-rap, dug up at a quarry about five miles outside town and supposedly beyond the contaminated zone. Still other areas in town have had plastic netting laid over the ground, supposedly to prevent erosion from washing contamination back into the town. And there are many areas that have not been touched, with climax vegetation (mostly sagebrush and some juniper trees) that would take decades to grow. These untouched areas are even found upslope from sensitive areas, such as the high school. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. The EPA claims that the problem has been solved, but my goal with this study is to provide independent evidence. Are areas inside the town still contaminated?

Headframes at the Eagle and Bluebell Mines

Headframes at the Eagle and Bluebell Mines

We had hoped that students at Tintic High School would identify and collect samples inside town, but the teacher that was going to collaborate with us bowed out because it was getting too close to the end of the year and he needed the time to prepare his students for state mandated tests. So instead, my students and I had traveled around town on our previous trips looking for candidate locations that will give us a good cross section and not cause problems with identifiable private property

Collecting samples near the High School

Collecting samples near the High School

I also wanted to get soils from a typical mineralized area that had not been mined or processed. There are a series of road cuts leading into town from the east where U.S. Highway 6 goes around several sharp turns. One of these curves cuts through a section of reddish-yellow rock and soil, the marker of a hydrothermal vein. We stopped and collected two samples, one from yellowish soil and one purplish-white. Then we drove on in to town to start collecting samples there.

We began by driving up to a dirt parking lot near the high school baseball diamond. There is an ATV track there where contamination is likely to have been stirred up by the four-wheelers and washed down a small gully through climax sagebrush and junipers. We collected inside the track, in the gully itself, and at the base of the junipers in what was undisturbed original soil.

A pump used to drain water from the mines. Power for the pump came from the Nunn brothers' hydroelectric station in Provo Canyon.

A pump used to drain water from the mines. Power for the pump came from the Nunn brothers’ hydroelectric station in Provo Canyon.

We then proceeded around town, taking samples on the surface and about six inches below at several locations, including a few empty lots, spots next to road right of ways and the city park, downslope from the Eagle and Bluebell mine dumps, and around an old house foundation that was long since abandoned and crumbling into ruin. Altogether we collected at ten sites, or twenty samples, in town. We then drove out of town to the west and collected samples from the bottom of a wash about half way down to the old CCC camp. This would be a control.

Map of Eureka, Utah

Map of Eureka, Utah

Although we needed to collect quite a few samples in a short period of time, we also took some time to explore more of the town. Around the museum, I explained to the students how the equipment worked, such as the pneumatic hammers, skip cages, water buckets, and muckers. They looked around the old jail and discovered some papers in a room underneath, including a booklet summarizing clean-up efforts after the flooding in 1983. We also found an old, yellowed map of Eureka itself. I carefully took photos of these documents and put them back where we found them. It was a sunny, warm day and we didn’t need coats even though there was still snow on the ground in places. We drove up to get some pictures of the Eagle and Bluebell mine sites. I got out of the car and walked along a hill that is covered in rip-rap to take photos of some old mine equipment and got myself stuck in a snowbank for a minute.

Mining gear at the Chief Consolidated Mining Company headquarters.

Mining gear at the Chief Consolidated Mining Company headquarters.

All told, we have about 42 samples from over 20 locations all over the district. We had identified these areas using Google Earth last fall. In addition to our sample collecting, we shot video and took photos as we traveled around town, with the intent to put all of this into a video on the history and current challenges of the town. Now for the analyses!

Plastic netting used by the EPA to slow down erosion on slopes, allowing native plants to grow.

Plastic netting used by the EPA to slow down erosion on slopes, allowing native plants to grow.

Ruined foundation of a house in Eureka. We sampled near here, since yard fill was often collected from the mine dumps.

Ruined foundation of a house in Eureka. We sampled near here, since yard fill was often collected from the mine dumps.

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Mine dump at the Tintic Standard Mine near Eureka, Utah

Mine dump at the Tintic Standard Mine near Eureka, Utah

On Tuesday, March 12, 2013 I took three students down to Eureka, Utah to collect our third set of soil samples for our Amercian Chemical Society grant project. Jeffrey, Sean, and Indie helped to collect samples and measure the soil pHs, as well as explore the history of the Tintic Mining District.

Mine dump with contaminated soils at the Tintic Standard Mine

Mine dump with contaminated soils at the Tintic Standard Mine

This time our first stop was at the old Tintic Standard Mine workings above Burgen and Dividend in the East Tintic District. Of all the ore bodies in the area, these on the east side of the Tintic Mountains were the last discovered and the Tintic Standard Mine was in full production by the 1920s. A reduction mill was built across Goshen Valley at the warm springs near Genola. Workers lived in a company town below the mine called Dividend. The mine produced well into the early 1940s, when it was partly shut down for the war effort, then re-opened. Work continued sporadically into the early 1970s.

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Collar and shaft at the Tintic Standard Mine. Even with a chain link fence around the hole, the loose soil at the collar could cave in and makes this shaft a dangerous place if you get too close.

There are still quite a few artifacts and ruins at the site, and care must be taken as there is a large vertical shaft with loose dirt around the collar, so you should stay well back from it. There is a large glory hole on the back hill and two water tanks further up, with the remains of a wooden ditch that brought water down to the company buildings and change room. The main portal to the mine went back from the change room, where there is still an old stove to keep the miners warm. That portal has been sealed off.

Stove in the change room at the main portal of the Tintic Standard Mine. This portal was active off and on into the 1970s.

Stove in the change room at the main portal of the Tintic Standard Mine. This portal was active off and on into the 1970s.

After exploring around, we collected some samples from the mine dump at the bottom of the hill where melting snow had created a clayey puddle. We also collected several samples along a trench that had been cut into the waste rock dump, where the soil was discolored with purplish or yellow deposits. The pH indicator needle pegged several times, showing an acidic pH of less than 3.5. It will be interesting to see what kind of lead content these samples have.

Jeffrey and Indie taking samples at the Tintic Standard Mine

Jeffrey and Indie taking samples at the Tintic Standard Mine

We then drove into Eureka and scouted around town for some additional sample sites to collect on our final trip on Thursday, as well as to look around the mining museum, old City Hall building with its jail in back, and the cemetery. I showed the students how miners worked the air-driven hammers and how water was sprayed into the holes through the center of the drill steel. We looked at the skips or man cages, the water removal buckets, and the mucker machine out front. We walked around Main Street, which was very quiet for a Tuesday afternoon. Only a few cars were driving through.

David Black by City Hall on Main Street in Eureka, Utah.

David Black by City Hall on Main Street in Eureka, Utah.

Water chute, tanks, and old foundation at the Tintic Standard Mine

Water chute, tanks, and old foundation at the Tintic Standard Mine

We drove out through the west end of town on Highway 6 and took a detour through the cemetery, recording with the Flip cameras as we went.  We explored around the town of Mammoth and collected samples in a wash at the mouth of Mammoth Canyon. We then went on around to the Swansea mine dumps at Silver City to continue collecting samples.

Ruins of the old power plant in Eureka. Heavy machinery moving through town has contributed to the deterioration of historic buildings like this one.

Ruins of the old power plant in Eureka. Heavy machinery moving through town has contributed to the deterioration of historic buildings like this one.

Since last week, the snow has mostly melted and the ground dried out to where we could walk on it in most places without leaving muddy footprints. We sampled in several washes running off the main dump and in soils between the washes where some scrub brush survives. The main wash feeding off of the dump had several layers of brightly colored soils, ranging from reds to yellows to even a shade of green.

Mammoth Mine, headframe, and glory hole. This was the deepest mine in the district, with the richest concentration of silver and gold ore.

Mammoth Mine, headframe, and glory hole. This was the deepest mine in the district, with the richest concentration of silver and gold ore.

I can see we need to do more studying here, to see how much lead and acidic runoff continue down these washes into the valley beyond. The runoff water has left a red stain on the asphalt of the road over a hundred yards from the main dump. The soil on and near the dump itself and in the bottom of the washes is devoid of life. Even though the last time this mine waste was dug up was the 1980s, when the leach pile nearby was created, no plant life has yet to colonize the contaminated soils in about 30 years.

Sean and Indie at the Silver City mine dump.

Sean and Indie at the Silver City mine dump.

David Black taking pH readings in the middle wash draining the mine dump at Silver City.

David Black taking pH readings in the middle wash draining the mine dump at Silver City.

All told we had an enjoyable and low-key trip, and even though it was overcast the day was fairly warm. We had now collected all the samples we needed outside the remediated zone.

Contaminated soils in the wash draining the Silver City mine dump.

Contaminated soils in the wash draining the Silver City mine dump.

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