Selected Trace Elements in the Sacramento River, California: Occurrence and Distribution


The impact of trace elements from the Iron Mountain Superfund site on the Sacramento River and selected tributaries is examined. The concentration and distribution of many trace elements—including aluminum, arsenic, boron, barium, beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, cerium, cobalt, chromium, cesium, copper, dysprosium, erbium, europium, iron, gadolinium, holmium, potassium, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, manganese, molybdenum, neodymium, nickel, lead, praseodymium, rubidium, rhenium, antimony, selenium, samarium, strontium, terbium, thallium, thulium, uranium, vanadium, tungsten, yttrium, ytterbium, zinc, and zirconium—were measured using a combination of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry. Samples were collected using ultraclean techniques at selected sites in tributaries and the Sacramento River from below Shasta Dam to Freeport, California, at six separate time periods from mid-1996 to mid-1997. Trace-element concentrations in dissolved (ultrafiltered [0.005-μm pore size]) and colloidal material, isolated at each site from large volume samples, are reported. For example, dissolved Zn ranged from 900 μg/L at Spring Creek (Iron Mountain acid mine drainage into Keswick Reservoir) to 0.65 μg/L at the Freeport site on the Sacramento River. Zn associated with colloidal material ranged from 4.3 μg/L (colloid-equivalent concentration) in Spring Creek to 21.8 μg/L at the Colusa site on the Sacramento River. Virtually all of the trace elements exist in Spring Creek in the dissolved form. On entering Keswick Reservoir, the metals are at least partially converted by precipitation or adsorption to the particulate phase. Despite this observation, few of the elements are removed by settling; instead the majority is transported, associated with colloids, downriver, at least to the Bend Bridge site, which is 67 km from Keswick Dam. Most trace elements are strongly associated with the colloid phase going downriver under both low- and high-flow conditions.

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The authors acknowledge the contributions of Joseph Domalgalski, Michael Hunerlach, Dale Peart, and Terry Plowman. We also thank Susan Riggins and James Crock for their review of an earlier version of this manuscript. The use of trade names is for identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the United States Geological Survey.

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Correspondence to H. E. Taylor.

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Taylor, H.E., Antweiler, R.C., Roth, D.A. et al. Selected Trace Elements in the Sacramento River, California: Occurrence and Distribution. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 62, 557–569 (2012) doi:10.1007/s00244-011-9738-z

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  • Suspended Sediment
  • Colloidal Material
  • PTFE Tubing
  • Colloid Phase
  • Dissolve Trace Element