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Little Cottonwood Canyon mining effects on the soil of Wheeler Historical Farm

Connor Kokott
Salt Lake Community College

This study used the geology and history of Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) and Salt Lake Valley (SLV)
to determine effects on the soil found at Wheeler Historical Farm. The null hypothesis tested was that the
Pb and As concentrations would be higher than the national tolerances in the soils of WF due to the
release of these metals into the water of LCC creek and the exposure to the creek at WF. Time was spent
collecting soil samples in specific areas around Wheeler Historic Farm (WF) near LCC creek, as well as
analyzing the soil with a X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to detect any Arsenic (As) and Lead (Pb). Six
averaged samples were taken. The highest amount of both Pb and As was found in a wetland habitat
floodplain to the east of the river, whereas the lowest concentrations were west of the creek in the
gardens. The concentration readings revealed less than the allotted tolerance for these heavy metals in a
public entity. The presence of As and Pb can cause complications to the human body and can even cause
death. Given the fact that this location happens to be public, and sells food for consumption to a local
farmers market, an analysis of soil composition deemed necessary. With the proof done through this
research, the consumers of the vegetables can have satisfaction knowing that they are eating safe food.
Also, the parents can have satisfaction knowing that their kids are playing in safe soil around the park.

1800s1. Underground mining, of that in the LCC
district, becomes a problem when the waste rock
and tailings release toxic compounds into the air
and water. As, water moves these heavy metals
down the canyon, it becomes a contaminant
elsewhere4. The velocity of the river drops when
the gradient of the river becomes closer to the
horizontal. In these flatter lying areas the
deposition of heavy metals becomes greater due
to the fact that the water cannot carry it any

The headwaters of Little Cottonwood Creek

gather at 9800 feet, formed from intermittent
creeks and outflow from Cecret Lake. From
there the stream drops approximately 5400 feet
over 27 miles to its confluence with the Jordan
River, a larger drop than any other Wasatch
Front stream. It follows the canyon course
carved by glaciers. In the 1870s, Little
Cottonwood Canyon was known for its fabled
mining town, Alta. At Alta, mining is prevalent
where the Mississippian limestone is interrupted
by the quartz diorite stock, and where
hydrothermal fluids fill the fractures created by
the numerous thrust faults3. Fortunes in silver
and lead were made just as quickly as they were
lost during the boom-and-bust period of the late

In recent years, some mine drainage problems

have been addressed by groups of stakeholders
that bring together mine and property owners,
environmental groups, and concerned citizens

with Federal, State, and local agencies. Concerns

about discharge of metal-rich water from
historical mine drainage tunnels LCC, near SLC,
Utah have been addressed by such a stakeholder
group. Under the direction of the Utah Division
of Water Quality, a total maximum daily load
study was conducted to evaluate loads for these
metals and to define the extent of necessary
treatment achieve water-quality standards. The
study showed that achieving the standards would
be expensive, much beyond the resources of the
stakeholder group, and so a study was proposed
to use reactive solute transport modeling to test
combinations of treatments that could provide
the cheaper alternative. Reactive solute transport
modeling has been combined with field
experiments to evaluate remediation options in
other settings.2Due to the research done in effort
from this group, discharge from the upstream
tunnel has been treated by a fen to reduce metal
loading, and discharge from the downstream
tunnel can be controlled because of a bulkhead
that creates a mine pool.2 The national standard
of arsenic is 50 g/litre. 5 The EPA standard for
Pb is 400 parts per million (ppm) in bare soil in
children's play areas or 1200 ppm average for
bare soil in the rest of the yard6.

Lead to chronic Arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions

and skin cancer are the most characteristic
effects. The immediate symptoms of acute
arsenic poisoning include vomiting, abdominal
pain and diarrhea. These are followed by
numbness and tingling of the extremities,
muscle cramping and death, in extreme cases. 5
Lead has been observed to have widespread
neurotoxic effects, as well as behavioral and
cognitive symptoms, in humans.6 Animal studies
are also congruent with observations of lead
exposure in humans, suggesting an increased
susceptibility of the young brain to lead
poisoning. The risk analysis supplement
estimates that the yard wide average soil-lead
concentration exceeds 2000 ppm in
approximately 1.7% of housing, approximately
3.3% of housing exceeds an average soil-lead
concentration of 1200 ppm, and between 11%
and 12% of housing exceeds an average soillead concentration of 400 ppm. 6
Wheeler Historic Farm has always been a 70+
acre farm. Its roles included dairy production as
the Rosebud Dairy, which produced enough milk
to supply many neighbors and others. This
business was supplemented by selling ice blocks
during the winter to provide refrigeration for
many. These ice blocs were harvested out of the
two retention ponds which are fed from the LCC
creek. Today Wheeler Historic Farm is operated
by Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation as an
agricultural living history museum and outdoor
recreation site. They also grow sweet corn and
other vegetables for the Wasatch Front Farmers
Market Association.

As is a natural component of the earths crust

and is widely distributed throughout the
environment in the air, water and land. It is
highly toxic in its inorganic form.5 People are
exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic
through drinking contaminated water, using
contaminated water in food preparation and
irrigation of food crops, industrial processes,
eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco.5
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can

Lead and Arsenic concentrations would be higher than the national tolerances in the soils of Wheeler
Historic Farm due to the release and dispersal of these heavy metal mine tailings into the water of Little
Cottonwood Canyon creek and Wheeler Historic Farms exposure to the creek.


The methods of gathering data towards this
research project are as follows. While in the
field, soils were collected using a shovel to
break the ground free and then a table spoon to
extract the correct amount, a heaping table
spoon. There is a total of 54 samples that
correspond to 6 different zones. For each zone, 9
samples were communally added to a sterile
bag. The bags were labeled correctly on the
outside with a permanent marker. For each of the
9 samples per zone the location was collected on
a handled phone application and stored within
the application. The Latitudinal and longitudinal
coordinates were also hand written into a field
journal. The chosen spot of collection was done
in a grid fashion for each zone so that the area
was covered equally. In the lab, the soils were

then dried using a coffee filter and the open air.

Once dry, they were ground down using a mortar
and pestle, and then sieved into a homogenous
mixture. The mortar, pestle, and sieve was
cleaned with water and dried with a paper towel
before each sample was processed. Once sieved,
each sample was scanned with an X-Ray
fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. This tool reveals
the metal concentrations present on the surface
of the soil, in PPM, and stores them for
download to an excel spreadsheet. All data was
electronically transferred to various computer
programs. From there a map and graph was
created on ArcGIS to present the locations and
concentrations for each zone.

The results of this experiment showed various levels of Pb and As. The highest levels of lead occurred in
zone 'a'; the wetlands located on the east side of the dam. This was to be expected due to the low lying
ground of the flood plain. In the case of a flood, all of the water coming through this area would wash
over the gravel walkway and fill the pond type reservoir located there. Due to the fact that the habitat
consists of wetlands in this area, the water must wash into here quite often. When the water washes into it,
it surely brings with it more and more heavy metals. In this area, there was 297.09 parts per million (ppm)
of Pb and 59.72 ppm of As. Towards the west and North West of the river the levels of Pb remained fairly
constant and the levels As dropped to hardly anything. Directly east of the wetland and across from the
river, zone 'b', is a higher elevated plot of land. In this area there is 88.49 ppm of Pb and 19.4 ppm of As.
The ground here was quite hard and also contained grass sod on top of the soil bedding. To the north of
this plot is zone 'c'. Here no level of As was detected but the level of Pb rose to 106.91 ppm. This are also
has grass sod on top of the soil bedding. In zone 'd' there is a house and the samples were taken from the
grass sod yard. The elevation here is still above the river, however the level of As is 32.4 ppm and yet
again the level of Pb rose 115.02 ppm. The west garden of the farm is labeled as zone 'e'. This is sample is
furthest from the river. The soil here is bare and has been plowed, and tilled numerous times in the past.
In this location no levels of As were revealed, however, a similar level of Pb came in at 97.24 ppm. The
last location is similar to zone 'e' but it is just east of it. This is zone 'f' and has been farmed on just as
much as zone 'e'. This plot of land is closer to the river and is higher in elevation as well. There is also no
As present in this location but, there is Pb present. It contains the lowest concentration of Pb with a
reading of 82.51 ppm.

Table 1. Levels of Lead and Arsenic reported at Wheeler Historic Farm.


Figure 1. Map of Zones a-f with individual Sample locations and concentrations.


In the design of this experiment, practices

obtainable in the mining district were
considered. Mining has always had disruptive
side effects on many areas. With underground
mining being the method of extraction in Little
Cottonwood Canyon and waste rock piles being
the factor left to deal with, it is now up to
science to prevent any future damage. Lead and
Arsenic are among the dangerous metals to
come in contact with humans. We must do
whatever we can to prevent these elements from
leeching into our water and eventually our food.
We also must prevent direct contact with Lead.
This should be especially regulated with
younger children. It has been evident that
contact with this element can lead to serious
developmental problems. The children are the
future of this world and we as civilians should
do everything we can to raise them in a healthy

way. This experiment should also bring to the

attention that mining is not only something that
fuels our plant. Mining should be examined to
revise its methods if the consequences outweigh
the benefits. If these methods were revised
towards a cleaner method the health of the
environment would improve, however, jobs in
the fields of science might be hindered. Today
the creek and its glaciated canyon are known
more for the world renowned ski resorts that
have built their reputations on the famous snow.
Smelters were built next to Little Cottonwood
Creek, and past mining and smelting activities
continue to affect stream chemistry. There were
several hydropower operations over the years,
and the stream still generates power for Murray
City. Human activity in this place will only
continue to grow.


From the heights of the Alta mining district, a creek flows through the vital areas of mine tailings and
waste rock. With all of this water comes various amounts of mine debris, which is Arsenic and Lead. The
presence of Lead and Arsenic can cause complications to the human body and can even cause death.
Where this river goes has an effect on the surrounding soil. Before this experiment, it was unknown as to
how much Lead and Arsenic was in the areas surrounding a recreational park called Wheeler Historic
Farm. After conducting this experiment, it is now known that there is no toxic levels of Lead or Arsenic in
the soils of this park.
5.) "Arsenic." WHO. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
4.) "Environmental Risks of Mining." Environmental Risks of Mining. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
6.) "EPA." Hazard Standards for Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil (TSCA Section 403). N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
1.) "Little Cottonwood Creek." Hidden Water -. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
2.) "Spiroaminals and Spiroketals via Au/La and Au/Y Relay Catalysis." Synfacts 10.03 (2014): 0240. Web.