View Full Version : Iron Pyrite sulfate release into streams

02-23-2010, 01:30 PM
I have recently become interested in this...
Last weekend, I was exploring a drainage in the cherokee nf, when I came across a sign in the upper elevations explaining that the stream had been contaminated by acid run-off from iron pyrite, and to be careful when consuming the water.

I was discussing this with Bryce Gibson (some may remember him from the anglers trading co in western plaza in knoxville), and he told me that he remembered a stream near Alum Cave being classified as a dead stream because of a similar sulfate release. He said he thought it had to do with road construction, but he wasn't for sure.

I didn't have my ph meter with me, but next time I go back to the area, I will be sure to take a reading for the upper and lower elevations.

I'd like to do a little more research on the topic...does anyone have any good sites to reference with further information on other streams affected or the amount of water it takes to dilute the acid?

02-24-2010, 09:33 AM

Pyrite exposed to the atmosphere during mining and excavation reacts with oxygen and water to form sulfate resulting in acid .....

02-24-2010, 10:06 AM
I had found the wikipedia site, but I was looking for something more specific to how it relates to aquatic life and area streams affected.

02-24-2010, 11:46 AM
The old man might have some insight into that. I'll try to remember to ask him the next time I see him. I'm certain he has dealt with that issue in the past.

02-24-2010, 01:54 PM
the amount of water it takes to dilute the acid?

I'm sorry, it was a lame attempt on my part to answer your question on how much water it takes to dilute the acid. What i should have added... ......as long as there is a sorce of pyrite the water adds to the problem. Pyrite exposed to the atmosphere during mining and excavation reacts with oxygen and water to form sulfate resulting in acid ....

Jim Casada
02-24-2010, 07:27 PM
Grannyknot--Presumably this is what is known as Anakeesta or "hot" rock. when laid bare and exposed to the elements it leaches out with bad results. There are numerous examples within the Park. In the aftermath of the completion of the Newfound Gap Road, some of the streams on the N. C. side which got leachate from the parking lot at the Gap suffered mightily for years. Indeed, Kephart Prong (then known as Mud Creek, perhaps from so much siltation) was so badly affected that the CCCs eventually shut down the fish hatchery located there. In the aftermath of a massive flood and landslide (could have been 1950 but I don't remember the date off the top of my head) Alum Cave Bluffs Creek was devoid of trout for many years. It is still marginal for them, at best. I briefly cover these two examples in my book, and of course hot rock was originally a key factor in stopping construction on the Road to Nowhere (one time where it did some good). I'm no geologist, but I think the Anakeesta Formation, which ranges through much of the Smokies, is what is in play here.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

02-24-2010, 08:39 PM
Jim, Anakeesta is the exact term I was looking for.
A Tennessee Outdoor series hiking guide that you edited references the stream I mentioned in the Cherokee NF.

02-26-2010, 03:41 PM
Found this ( quotes below) old NPS bulletin floating around the internet still for some reason. The briefing is dated (92 I think) but does reference other studies that you may be able to get access to through Google Scholar or even the Park. It will probaly run you through Springerlink and such where you can get some things free, need to register for others, and then pay yet for others. If you contact the resource mgmt folks with the park, I wouldn't be surprised if the have scanned copies that maybe they'd share.

As far as amt of water to get to the point of dilution is the solution, it is probably dependent somewhat on seasons and rainfall. Low flow conditions and shortly there after those conditions probably will find effects further downstream as the baseflow would likely be more concentrated. After a good flushing, wetter periods, the effects probably don't reach as far. Hope this is useful.

"(13) = = = = Great Smokies Streams Acidified by Anakeesta Formation Exposures = = = =

by Darlene J. Kucken, Richard P. Maas, and Steven C. Patch

Exposed Anakeesta Formations, located within the Great Smoky Mountains NP (GSMNP) along Anakeesta Ridge, have long been known to cause negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Anakeesta Formations are composed of pyritic and carbonaceous slate and phyllite, which when exposed to air and water oxidize and form leachate containing sulfuric acid, iron, and other heavy metals such as zinc, manganese, and aluminum. In 1964, when a section of U.S. Highway 441 through the GSMNP between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN was reconstructed, large Anakeesta Formations were disturbed and used as roadfill material at Newfound Gap. The chemical composition of Beech Flats Creek (BFC), previously a favored pristine trout stream, was severely and perhaps permanently altered by this construction disturbance, rendering it virtually lifeless.

The headwaters of BFC begin just below Clingman's Dome Road, flow under U.S. Hwy 441 at Newfound Gap, and eventually flow into the Oconoluftee River. The extent of stream chemistry alteration was first documented in 1975/76 (Bacon and Maas, 1979), when an attempt was made to determine stream recovery as a function of downstream distance from the source of Anakeesta. A follow-up water chemistry study was conducted from spring 1968 through summer 1990 (Maas et al., 1990) (Kucken, 1991) and the results compared to the 1975/76 study to determine whether significant changes in stream conditions had occurred over the 15-year period."

The abstract for a report by Mass is the following;

Contamination of Great Smoky Mountains Trout Streams by Exposed Anakeesta Formations1
J. R. Bacon and R. P. Maas2


Anakeesta formations, prevalent geologic deposits in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), when exposed to air and water release an acid and heavy metal containing leachate into several GSMNP streams, rendering them virtually lifeless. Anakeesta pyrite affecting Beech Flats Creek was exposed during the construction of U.S. Highway 441, while exposures affecting Alum Cave Creek and Walker Prong are naturally occurring.

The road cut on U.S. 441 at Beech Flats Creek acts as point source of various contaminants. The acidity increases 100-fold (pH 6.7 to 4.7) in the several hundred meters where the stream flows through a road cut fill area. Manganese and zinc were the main metallic ions introduced at the road cut. The zinc increased from 6 to nearly 200 ppb and the manganese increased from an undetectable level to over 250 ppb. Seasonal variations below the road show a high concentration near 500 ppb in the summer to a low concentration near 100 ppb in the winter for both manganese and zinc. Both manganese and zinc showed the dilution effect expected going downstream away from the road cut. Alum Cave Creek and Walker Prong showed much lower levels of manganese and zinc and no point source could be located.

The results of the present study should prove useful to National Park personnel in making management decisions. This is especially important in view of several proposed new roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.