Science for Decision Making on Uranium Mining in Arizona

Characterize Surface Radiation and Soil and Dust Chemistry through the Mine Life Cycle

At Pinyon Plain (formerly Canyon) Mine

Pinyon Plain (formerly Canyon) Mine Life Cycle

The Pinyon Plain Mine (formerly Canyon Mine) represents premining conditions during the development of the mine.

Breccia-pipe uranium mineral deposits contain radioactive material and radiation may be detected at the surface, even before mining activity commences. Measurements and maps of surface radiation before, during, and after mining, and after reclamation help determine if mining affects the amount of surface radiation. High levels of radiation can affect the health of the surficial ecosystem, and biota (including humans) that interact with that ecosystem.

Breccia-pipe uranium mineral deposits contain elevated concentrations of uranium and related trace elements, some of which are toxic to biota. Activities during mining including ore extraction, surface storage, and transport to the milling location in Blanding, Utah, have the potential to redistribute uranium and associated trace elements to the surrounding surface environment and ecosystems. Soil is one possible receptacle for these trace elements and represents a pathway where these potentially toxic trace elements may be introduced into surrounding ecosystems, surface drainage systems, and biota.

Questions this study could help answer

  • Does surface radiation increase during mining activity?
  • If so, by how much, in what areas, and what processes (mining and natural) are responsible for increased surface radiation?
  • What is the range and geographic distribution of element concentrations in soils before, during, and after mining, and after reclamation?
  • Where in the very shallow subsurface (up to about 50 centimeters depth) are trace elements concentrated, and what does that tell us about their origin?
  • Is dust transport an important exposure pathway?
  • How do trace element concentrations in soils at these sites relate to benchmark concentrations?


Compare gamma radiation and soil trace-element concentrations maps to similar maps constructed at other sites before and during mining, and during and after reclamation to understand how mining and reclamation change surficial radiation and trace-element distributions in soil above and around breccia-pipe uranium deposits.

Pinyon Plain (formerly Canyon) Mine Activities

In June 2013, collection of surficial soil samples, shallow soil cores, and measurement of surface gamma radiation was conducted in the mine yard, including directly above the subsurface location of the breccia pipe uranium deposit, and in an area extending a few hundred meters around the deposit. Results indicated that concentrations of arsenic, molybdenum, uranium, and vanadium and gamma radiation were slightly elevated within the mine yard relative to outside the mine yard, but no evidence of off-mine transport of trace elements or surface radiation was indicated1, 2, 3.

Additional soil samples were collected near the BSNE dust collector sites in July 2015.



Specific Tasks

Task 5a: Compile/evaluate existing and newly collected monitoring data from various agencies/sources
Task 5c: Collect/analyze samples from biota with focus on trust resources
Task 7a: Conduct species surveys
Task 7b: Collect/analyze water and sediment samples
Task 7d: Collect/analyze soils including deeper horizons to characterize vertical distributions
Task 11: Characterize the wind dispersion characteristics of uranium and trace elements associated with uranium mining and the subsequent risk to biota.


Pinyon Plain (formerly Canyon) Mine Sources:

1 Walton-Day, K., Bern, C.R., Naftz, D.L., Gross, T.A., and O'Shea, P.M., 2019, Surface Materials Data from Breccia-Pipe Uranium Mine and Reference Sites, Arizona, USA: U.S. Geological Survey data release

2 Bern, C.R., Walton-Day, K., and Naftz, D.L., 2019, Improved enrichment factor calculations through principal component analysis: examples from soils near breccia pipe uranium mines, Arizona, USA: Environmental Pollution, 248, p. 90-100.

3 Naftz, D., and Walton-Day, K., 2016, Establishing a pre-mining geochemical baseline at a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park, USA: Geoderma Regional, v. 7, no. 1, p. 76-92

Principal Investigators

Katie Walton-Day
Colorado Water Science Center

Photo Gallery

Pinyon Plain Mine (formerly Canyon Mine) Yard Sampling

Pinyon Plain (formerly Canyon) Mine Gallery

Sites with Related Activities

Arizona 1 || EZ || Pinenut || Kanab North || Little Robinson