Study of Abandoned Uranium Mining Impacts

On Private Land Surrounding US Forest Service Land In Western South Dakota



Home | Background & Purpose | North Cave Hills | South Cave Hills | Slim Buttes | Southern Black Hills | Literature | Contact

Background and Purpose

During the late 1950s and early 1960s a substantial amount of prospecting and mining of uranium resources occurred in western South Dakota, southeastern Montana, and northeast Wyoming. These lands are located in the Grand, Moreau, and Belle Fourche/Cheyenne watersheds of the Missouri River drainage. As a result of this historic activity, degradation of both land and water resources have occurred from the migration of contaminated materials by water and wind erosion. In addition, the remnants of these impacts may pose a risk to human health.

Over the past eight years the Forest Service has completed a number of Preliminary Assessments and Site Investigations at locations on lands administered by the Forest Service. However, the overall extent of the impacts to the Upper Grand and Moreau River drainages from these sites, as well as sites adjacent to lands administered by the Forest Service, need to be further investigated. In order to meet responsibilities under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 as amended, CERCLA, (42 U.S.C. 1251) Region One of the Forest Service has partnered with the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology to help in the evaluation of human health and environmental impacts resulting from the past mining and prospecting of Uranium resources in the watersheds.

The purpose of this study is to improve the ability of the Forest Service to evaluate impacts to air, water, and soil resources, as well as potential impacts to human health stemming from the migration of contaminated material from past mining activities on or adjacent to lands in the North Cave Hills. It is anticipated that this project will be completed by December 31, 2006. It is also the intent of this endeavor to: (1) develop a technical process for the evaluation of mining related impacts; (2) evaluate the physical and chemical characteristics at a limited number of sub-drainages; (3) develop educational opportunities for students and Forest Service personnel pertaining the remediation of historical mine and milling sites.

Project Goals and Tasks

  • To collect and analyze field data from US Forest Service Lands in northwestern South Dakota.
  • Data from the project will be assessed to determine the offsite impacts onto private lands due to soil and water erosion and to wind transported dust originating from abandoned uranium mining sites on Forest Service administered lands.
  • Data collection and analytical methods will reflect true contaminant dispersion and concentrations.
  • The study will serve as proof-of-concept investigation for future work.
  1. Review of information and literature.
  2. Development of technical processes using a watershed approach for the evaluation of the migration of contaminants by water and soil erosion within a given watershed and for the evaluation air quality within a given airshed.
  3. Conduct field sampling and testing of water and sediment and monitor air quality and dust transport within the airshed. Water will be collected from stream channels, soil samples will be collected using a Geoprobe coring machine, and air samples will be collected using passive samplers and a wind tunnel.
  4. Document and report on the field findings in a technical report, journal manuscripts, M.S. thesis, and scientific presentations.
  5. Educational integration with undergraduate and graduate students, outdoor classroom opportunities, community outreach, and a public website.