In the Upper Weardale area the headwaters of the River Wear bisect the Northern Pennine Orefield, where Pb-Zn-F-Ba vein-type mineralisation has been exploited since the Roman Conquest. The area contains evidence of open pit, underground and hydraulic mining of base metal ores, associated mineral processing and smelting, exploitation of ironstones during the industrial revolution, recent extraction of fluorite and active quarrying. The aim of this study was to determine the extent of modern sediment contamination arising from these past activities. Samples of active stream sediments were collected from all major drainage channels at 1 km intervals. The sediments were analysed for Pb, Zn, Ba, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Cr, As, Sb, Ag and compared to data from earlier regional geochemical surveys of low order drainage samples using Arc View software. The significance of contamination levels was assessed using the Ontario aquatic sediment quality guidelines. Our results indicate widespread contamination of some major drainages by Pb, Mn, Zn and As at concentration levels anticipated to significantly affect use of the sediments by benthic organisms. Furthermore, Pb contamination shows persistence in stream sediments downstream towards agricultural areas of the floodplain and drinking water abstraction points, above which interaction with colliery mine water discharges may occur.
- stream sediments