- © 2014 Mineralogical Society of America
The Empire Mine, together with other mines in the Grass Valley mining district, produced at least 21.3 million troy ounces (663 tonnes) of gold (Au) during the 1850s through the 1950s, making it the most productive hardrock Au mining district in California history (Clark 1970). The Empire Mine State Historic Park (Empire Mine SHP or EMSHP), established in 1975, provides the public with an opportunity to see many well-preserved features of the historic mining and mineral processing operations (CDPR 2014a).
A legacy of Au mining at Empire Mine and elsewhere is contamination of mine wastes and associated soils, surface waters, and groundwaters with arsenic (As), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), and other metals. At EMSHP, As has been the principal contaminant of concern and the focus of extensive remediation efforts over the past several years by the State of California, Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and Newmont USA, Ltd. In addition, the site is the main focus of a multidisciplinary research project on As bioavailability and bioaccessibility led by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) Brownfields Program.
This chapter was prepared as a guide for a field trip to EMSHP held on June 14, 2014, in conjunction with a short course on “Environmental Geochemistry, Mineralogy, and Microbiology of Arsenic” held in Nevada City, California on June 15–16, 2014. This guide contains background information on geological setting, mining history, and environmental history at EMSHP and other historical Au mining districts in the Sierra Nevada, followed by descriptions of the field trip stops.
Empire Mine SHP is located in the Grass Valley mining district on the western-sloping foothills of the Sierra Nevada (Fig. 1). The Sierra Nevada Foothills (SNFH) orogenic gold province stretches 150 miles (240 km) from the town …