In this study, we examine the variations in rare-earth elements (REE) from the Lower Kittanning coal bed of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, USA, in an attempt to understand the factors that control mineral matter deposition and modification in coal and to evaluate possible REE mixed-exposure hazards facing underground mine workers. The results of this study suggest that the Lower Kittanning coal mineral matter is derived primarily from a classic source similar to that of the shale overburden. While highly charged cations like silicon, aluminum, and titanium remained relatively immobile within the coal mineral matter, iron (primarily as pyrite) was added from nonclastic sources, either during deposition of the coal mire vegetation or subsequent to burial. Other mobile cations (e.g., alkali and alkaline-earth elements) appear to have been added to and/or leached from the originally deposited clastic mineral matter. Most of the sulfur in the Lower Kittanning coalbed is bound as FeS2 in the mineral matter, but a majority of samples contain a small excess of S that is most likely organically bound. In general, the total rare-earth element content (TREE) in coal ash is greater than that in the shale overburden. If the primary source of mineral matter is the same as that for the overlying shale, then REE must have been enriched in the coal mineral matter subsequent to deposition. The total rare-earth element content for Lower Kittanning coals correlates strongly with Si concentration ([TREE] 0.0024 [Si]), which provides a threshold for evaluating possible mixed-exposure health effects. Chrondrite-normalized REE patterns reveal a shalelike light rare-earth element (LREE) enrichment for the coal, similar to that of the shale overburden, again suggesting a primarily clastic REE source. However, when normalized to the shale overburden, most of the coal ash samples display a small, but distinct heavy rare-earth element (HREE) enrichment. We surmise that the HREE were added and/or preferentially retained during epigenesis, possibly associated with groundwater flow through the coal unit, but not necessarily in close association with the addition of iron. At least some of the "excess" HREE could be organically bound within the Lower Kittanning coal.
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