Two professors turn toxic runoff from Ohio coal mines into art

For the past five years, two professors at Ohio University in Athens, John Sabraw and Guy Riefler, have been working hard to turn abandoned coal mines runoff into art.

The main objective of their project is to clean up rivers from acid mine drainage, but the artistic outcome is also helping to set an effective and economically viable way to achieve that goal.

“I figured if we could collect the sludge we make, it could offset the cost of operating [a] water treatment plant [near the abandoned mines],” Riefler told New Scientist. “Based on the numbers we got, I’m sure we could at least break even or make a profit by neutralizing the sulphuric acid, and that’s what really kills the fish.”

Riefler and Sabraw are now working to streamline and standardize the process enough to become a domestic pigment provider for major manufacturers, with profits going back to clean up the polluted sources.