US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Geochemical Transactions 2007, 8:10, 1-14; doi:10.1186/1467-4866-8-10


Sediments recovered from the flooded mine workings of the Penn Mine, a Cu-Zn mine abandoned since the early 1960s, were cultured for anaerobic bacteria over a range of pH (4.0 to 7.5). The molecular biology of sediments and cultures was studied to determine whether sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) were active in moderately acidic conditions present in the underground mine workings. Here we document multiple, independent analyses and show evidence that sulfate reduction and associated metal attenuation are occurring in the pH-4 mine environment. Waterchemistry analyses of the mine water reveal: (1) preferential complexation and precipitation by H2S of Cu and Cd, relative to Zn; (2) stable isotope ratios of 34S/32S and 18O/16O in dissolved SO4 that are 2–3 ‰ heavier in the mine water, relative to those in surface waters; (3) reduction/oxidation conditions and dissolved gas concentrations consistent with conditions to support anaerobic processes such as sulfate reduction. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) analyses of sediment show 1.5-micrometer, spherical ZnS precipitates. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analyses of Penn Mine sediment show a high biomass level with a moderately diverse community structure composed primarily of iron- and sulfate-reducing bacteria. Cultures of sediment from the mine produced dissolved sulfide at pH values near 7 and near 4, forming precipitates of either iron sulfide or elemental sulfur. DGGE coupled with sequence and phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA gene segments showed populations of Desulfosporosinus and Desulfitobacterium in Penn Mine sediment and laboratory cultures.