An Environmental Engineer Teamed Up With An Artist To Turn Pollutants From Rivers Into Oil Paints

By Fattima Mahdi

Want to know how to turn pollution into paint? Meet Ohio artist John Sabraw and environmental engineer Guy Riefler, they are saving waterways from coal mine pollution by turning that pollution into non-toxic paints.

For decades, abandoned coal mines have been oozing with acid mine drainage (AMD), this has polluted up to 1,300 miles of waterways in Ohio alone. “Some of the seeps we work with the release over one million gallons of polluted water a day. This water can have a final pH below 2 and carry over 2000 lbs. of iron. It’s like junking two cars in the stream every single day”, says Sabraw. To tackle this environmental problem, Riefler and Sabraw produced a beautiful solution – to turn the iron oxide into the paint. “We intercept the toxic acid mine drainage before it gets to the stream, neutralize the acidity, extract the iron oxide and release the clean water back into the stream. The iron oxide can be ground into pigment and blended with different binders to make paint. The paint is called Reclaimed Earth Violet and is made from AMD waste. In creating a viable product from contamination, our process provides a closed loop. We’ve made it possible to restore the streams from their own clean-up,” explains Sabraw.

“It’s been years of work by many people to get our process ready to test at scale in a pilot plant. We have taken all of those metrics and scaled them up to handle thousands of gallons of water instead of just a 5-gallon bucket in the lab. We received a grant from the Sugar Bush Foundation for the structure of the plant last summer. We’ve had 20 AmeriCorps and other volunteers help us construct three big concrete pads that can handle the weight of the water in the three main settling tanks. The tanks have been built and are ready to be installed, which will happen any day now. Then we will build a tower that will have a pump to bring AMD up from the seep into three colander type trays that will aerate the water and drop it into the first tank, then we’ll connect all the tanks to each other and to the final stage, which is a slag bed that will set the final pH as the clean water returns to the stream.”

To expand their full-circle pollution solution, Sabraw and Riefler need your help. They have created a kickstarter campaign and rewards range from your name on the wall, to limited editions of the REV oil paint. You can also get your hands on a custom painting of John Sabraw.

Update: They reached their goal of $30,000 on Kickstarter in 2018. 

Leave Comment: