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Effect of Mining Activities on Wildlife

Whitewood Creek is in western South Dakota north of Sturgis. Environmental contaminants associated with mining activities may affect wildlife species in many ways and at many levels within the ecosystem. Some contaminants associated with mines (e.g., lead, arsenic, cyanide, etc.) may cause acute or chronic effects on resident wildlife.

At Whitewood Creek near Deadwood, South Dakota, more than 100 million tons of gold-mine tailings were discharged into the creek from 1876 until 1977. Because of tailings and associated heavy metal contamination, Whitewood Creek, downstream of the discharge point, was considered a lifeless stream during these years.

The effluent still sometimes exceeds national water quality standards for various toxic inorganic constituents including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and cyanide.

The study focuses on whether wildlife inhabiting Whitewood Creek are being exposed and injured. Bird eggs and chicks were collected from Whitewood Creek and analyzed for heavy metals.

Another mine-related issue involves Joachim Creek near Herculaneum, Missouri. A lead smelter near this site that has been active since the late 1880s contributes heavy metals to the local environment through waste water discharges, erosion of tailing piles (coarse grain sediments), and air emission fallout.

Herculaneum is on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, Mile 152 This study focuses on determining lead exposure in wildlife inhabiting Joachim Creek. Adult birds of several species were collected from Joachim Creek near Herculaneum, Missouri, and analyzed for heavy metals. These results will assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in determining whether action needs to be taken to protect wildlife resources at these sites.

The project was completed September 2001.

Photo caption: Doe Run Smelter, Herculaneum, Missouri, showing Joachim Creek

Principal Investigator: Tom Custer

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Page Last Modified: October 2, 2007