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Naturally Occurring Contamination in the Mancos Shale

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journal contribution
posted on 22.02.2016, 06:43 by Stan J. Morrison, Craig S. Goodknight, Aaron D. Tigar, Richard P. Bush, April Gil
Some uranium mill tailings disposal cells were constructed on dark-gray shale of the Upper Cretaceous Mancos Shale. Shale of this formation contains contaminants similar to those in mill tailings. To establish the contributions derived from the Mancos, we sampled 51 locations in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Many of the groundwater samples were saline with nitrate, selenium, and uranium concentrations commonly exceeding 250 000, 1000, and 200 μg/L, respectively. Higher concentrations were limited to groundwater associated with shale beds, but were not correlated with geographic area, stratigraphic position, or source of water. The elevated concentrations suggest that naturally occurring contamination should be considered when evaluating groundwater cleanup levels. At several locations, seep water was yellow or red, caused in part by dissolved organic carbon concentrations up to 280 mg/L. Most seeps had 234U to 238U activity ratios greater than 2, indicating preferential leaching of 234U. Seeps were slightly enriched in 18O relative to the meteoric water line, indicating limited evaporation. Conceptually, major ion chemical reactions are dominated by calcite dissolution following proton release from pyrite oxidation and subsequent exchange by calcium for sodium residing on clay mineral exchange sites. Contaminants are likely released from organic matter and mineral surfaces during weathering.