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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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Electric speeder engine for pulling lead ore cars

Electric speeder engine for pulling lead ore cars

    The third section of my journey home to Utah from Philadelphia revolved around the lead mines of Missouri. On Thursday morning, Aug. 3, I was at St. Francois State Park near Bonne Terre, Missouri in the Old Lead Belt, and I toured the Bonne Terre Lead Mine as well as the Missouri Mines State Historic Site in Leadington.

Shovel built by the St. Joseph Lead Company

Shovel built by the St. Joseph Lead Company

    When French explorers made their way up the Mississippi River they came to a place where shiny, heavy rocks were scattered over the surface. This was rich galena ore, or lead sulfide, which forms shiny, dark-gray cubic crystals. They named the area Bonne Terre, meaning “Good Earth” and did some surface mining beginning about 1720. Later settlers took up the mining operations in the late 1800s and sunk shafts into the richest ore bodies, which extended in a rough line from just west of St. Louis southeasterly about 100 miles along the Mississippi River toward the toe of Missouri. This area, known as the Old Lead Belt, and 1000 miles of tunnels and chambers and 300 miles of railroad tracks were cut out of the native limestone. Another band of rich lead ore, called the Viburnum Trend, is still being mined further west. This is the richest lead deposit in the world, and supplied demand for lead for over 60 years.

Mule trail into the Bonne Terre lead mine

Mule trail into the Bonne Terre lead mine

    As the miners dug into the rocks at Bonne Terre, their first chamber, nearest the surface, didn’t have very much good ore. So they sunk further shafts and started a new level, this one much richer. It extended for hundreds of yards under the town of Bonne Terre, and used a chamber and pillar method of mining. The limestone rock there was solid enough that huge chambers over 40 feet high were eventually dug, with supporting pillars. When they had reached the edges of the ore body all around, they delved even deeper, sinking new shafts and creating a new level under the first two, with pillars carefully lined up on top of each other to keep the weight supported. This went on for a total of five levels, each one extending further out on the sides as the ore body widened, forming a huge pyramid of levels. Other lead mines in the Old Lead Belt did the same thing, and most of them interconnected so that when the mines were active you could travel through hundreds of miles of underground chambers and tunnels. Being in this mine reminded me very much of the Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings. I kept looking out for orcs . . .

 

Pillars and chambers in the Bonne Terre mine

Pillars and chambers in the Bonne Terre mine

    Once mining ended at Bonne Terrre, the lower levels began to flood with water since it was no longer being pumped out. Eventually the bottom three levels all flooded and part of the second level. The tour takes you down through the first and into the second level along the old mule trail, and for an additional fee, you can take a pontoon boat out on this billion gallon underground lake. It sounds like the perfect setting for a horror movie, but the only living thing in all this water is a large-mouthed bass named Bonnie that has to live off of worms the tour guides bring in. She was transplanted here ten years ago and still survives in this deep lake. She isn’t too lonely, however. Between the tours, cave divers come here regularly, and some TV programs have been here as well, including a season of Nickelodeon that was kicked off here and an underground wakeboarding contest sponsored by Red Bull drinks. I’m not sure how they managed to get the boats in and out – they can only come in through the shafts that lead to the surface. They must have been taken apart and reassembled in the chambers.

Shaft leading to the surface in the Bonne Terre lead mine

Shaft leading to the surface in the Bonne Terre lead mine

    After a very interesting tour, I traveled south ten miles to Leadington and Park Hills and went through the Missouri Mines State Historic Site. Built in an old lead mine/concentration plant building of the St. Joseph Lead Company, this museum has equipment on display as well as a world-class collection of rocks and minerals from Missouri and around the world. Some of their samples rival those at the Smithsonian.

Missouri Mines State Historic Site. Art Hebrank is on the left.

Missouri Mines State Historic Site. Art Hebrank is on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

They have been collected and the site is administered by Art Hebrank, who has been a geologist for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and really knows his stuff. I had a very enjoyable talk with him, and he discussed some of the plans they have for renovating the site and expanding the museum. Right now, the museum is housed in the old power house while the rest of the site is a rusting ruin (but very fascinating for those of us who get into such things). I took a lot of photos and panoramic video there.

Specimens of copper minerals at Missouri Mines State Historic Site

Specimens of copper minerals at Missouri Mines State Historic Site

 

A ball mill for crushing lead ore

A ball mill for crushing lead ore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    I highly recommend that if you are interested in the history of Missouri or of mining or, like me, you want to know where the elements come from, then you should take the Bonne Terre mine tour and visit the Missouri Mines State Historic Site. It was definitely worth my time. Between the mine tour and the museum, I now have a the footage and photos I need to create an excellent podcast episode or two on Missouri lead mining.

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