In Southeastern Ohio many of the streams run orange. Throughout the first half of the 20th century strip mining and room-and-pillar mining were common throughout this region. Forests were clear cut, soils scraped away, and tunnels dug to remove the coal. A few active coal mines continue in the region, but by the 1970s most of the mining companies had moved on leaving behind open mines and disturbed land, with inadequate restoration.
Much of the forest has now regrown, although it is young, but the underground mines continue to release toxic water to streams. When abandoned, many of the mines fill with water, and the oxygen and water react with mineral surfaces that had been buried for 300 million years. When sulfides are present, these are common in Appalachian coal deposits, very high concentrations of sulfuric acid and iron are produced. In one local seep, over one million gallons per day of polluted water enters Sunday Creek. This water has a final pH below 2 and over 2000 lb of iron per day. It is like junking a car in the stream every day. However, our team started asking what if the iron sludge could be sold as a valuable resource rather than disposed of as a waste product? What if treating pollution could be an entrepreneurial endeavor rather than a societal cost?
To prove the quality of our pigments made from this pollution, I use them in paintings like this one.
Chroma S6 2 (2021) by John Sabraw