Acid Mine Drainage Used To Create Paints

Sunday Creek begins in Corning, a small town in Ohio, and goes down 27 miles before meeting the Hocking River. The Creek’s water was home to coal-miners’ communities. But the mines have closed since then, leaving behind their runoffs. Which were almost 1,000 gallons per minute of water? The water contamination is so bad that it is one of the worst acid mine drainage in the state of Ohio.

Ohio University professor of art, John Sabraw, noticed the effects of acid mine drainage while exploring Sunday Creek with an environmentalist group in 2003. The artist also tries to maintain sustainability in his life.

acid mine drainage

Looking at the toxic flow of materials in the streams, he came up with an idea that was creative and sustainable. John decided to battle water pollution by using pigments from toxins to create art. For nearly the entire past decade, John is working on this concept.

It’s a terrific combination of science and art that requires painstaking amounts of engineering processes. You also need an abundance of creativity, too. But this initiative is useful in fighting water pollution. Sabraw is a longtime political activist who is interested in environmental issues and sustainable ideas. He wishes to use his art to empower change.

“Sustainability is something I thought I could have an impact on. Most of our wars are caused by sustainability. People don’t want to share resources and they displace some. It causes conflict.” he tells EuroNews.

A Step Towards Sustainability      

 “As we toured southeastern Ohio, local streams struck me. They are not only devoid of aquatic life, but are orange, red and brown, as if from a mudslide upstream,” Sabraw tells TIME.

The environmentalists helped him figure out the reasons for discoloration.

“The colors were mainly from iron oxide-the same raw material used to make many paint colors. I thought it would be fantastic to use this toxic flow to make paintings.”

Several paintings, drawings, and collaborative installations are found in places such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Honolulu, the Elmhurst Museum in Illinois, Emprise Bank,. They keep in mind that they develop them in an eco-conscious manner.


His aim, however, is not to spread awareness. He wishes to create a dialogue between his art and the people who look at it. He wants people to look at his art and remember the good times they had amongst nature. Instead of understanding his message immediately, his art aims to trigger a psychological memory.

The response may even be emotional, making them test their actions. This encourages them to think about how they can make a significant change.

Paint With Acid Mine Drainage Pigments

Mines are the main regional source of acid mine drainage. It’s a pollutant that contaminates drinking water, disrupting the growth of plants and animals. It also corrodes infrastructure like bridges. The US Government has taken a lot of measures to avoid this problem. But it remains a health hazard. The intoxication is still present in water bodies.

He met with another professor and civil engineer, Guy Reifler, to discuss ways of solving this problem. That is how their project came into existence. Deriving paints from toxic pigments was Sabraw’s primary focus for the past decade. He collaborated with scientists for this project to clean polluted and hazardous streams.

Paints from Acid Mine Drainage

They tested the pigments that come in shades of yellows, oranges, reds, and yes, even purple! The major aim was to get pigments of the best quality extracted from the water bodies. Sabraw is also a research consultant for True Pigments, a water treatment facility. He was the inspiration for using iron oxide to produce paint pigments in True Pigments.

Sabraw also suggests that there’s an interconnectedness in the capture of iron oxide. “Everything is intertwined,” he tells TIME. “The streams these pigments come from connect to other streams, rivers and eventually the ocean. This might seem like a local issue, but it’s not—it’s a global issue.”

The alliance of science and art is important to take steps towards a sustainable future. 

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