Soils and spoils: mineralogy and geochemistry of mining and processing wastes from lead and zinc mining at the Gratz Mine, Owen County, Kentucky

James C. Hower, Željka Fiket, Kevin R. Henke, John K. Hiett, Jon S. Thorson, Madan Kharel, Shifeng Dai, Luis F.O. Silva, Marcos L.S. Oliveira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: Mineralogical and geochemical features of mining and processing wastes collected in Owen County, part of the Central Kentucky Lead–Zinc district, were investigated. The Gratz mine, abandoned in the 1940s, is on a dairy farm. Aside from discerning the nature of mining refuse at the site, the investigation was part of the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy’s mission to explore unusual environments in the search for unique microbiological communities. Materials and methods: Four samples of a soil-plus-spoils mix were collected from spoil piles and two samples, the sluice and coarse samples, were closely associated with the site of the ore processing. Optical petrology (polarized reflected-light, oil-immersion optics at a final magnification of 500 ×), X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, field emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM), and high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HR-TEM) with selected area electron diffraction (SAED) and/or microbeam diffraction (MBD), scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), and energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer (EDS) analyses were employed to characterize the samples. Results and discussion: Calcite is the main mineral in most samples, followed by near equal amounts of quartz and dolomite. Sphalerite and galena are the principal sulfides and barite is the dominant sulfate. Geochemistry of major elements reflected the mineralogy, whereas trace elements showed different groupings between the minerals. Scandium, Cu, Ga, Ge, Cd, and Sb were found predominantly associated with Zn and Pb and sulfide minerals; Bi, Hf, In, Sn, and Zr with heavy mineral fraction; while the remaining trace elements, including the rare earths, were mostly distributed among other present phases, i.e., oxyhalides, oxides, silicates, and carbonaceous material. The data were used to illustrate the processes and conditions that control the sulfide-mineral oxidation and its potential for the environmental release of associated reaction products. Conclusions: The wastes represent a potential source of environmentally disruptive concentrations of Zn, Pb, and other sulfide-associated elements. The high share of carbonates suggests near-neutral conditions in deposited wastes, restricting sulfide weathering and further limiting the oxidant activity of Fe. The low-Fe content and its predominant presence in highly resistant hematite also constrain sulfide weathering. Consequently, the spoils have a low potential for generation of acidity and release of heavy metal(loid)s in the surrounding environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1773-1786
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Geochemistry
  • Mineralogy
  • Mining waste
  • Pb–Zn mine
  • Spoil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Stratigraphy


Dive into the research topics of 'Soils and spoils: mineralogy and geochemistry of mining and processing wastes from lead and zinc mining at the Gratz Mine, Owen County, Kentucky'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this