Rural Action now owns the worst acid mine discharge in the state of Ohio.

And the group couldn’t be happier.

The site, in Truetown (near Millfield) in Athens County, produces 988 gallons of acid mine drainage per minute — more than 2 million pounds of iron oxide per year. The water runs orange, and is not potable, as a result of the coal mining of years past. Pyrite exposed through mining is combines with rain water and air to form sulfuric acid through dissolved iron. It further dissolves heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury into the groundwater and streams, which can disrupt plant growth and animal habitats, as well as corrode infrastructure.

While some see pollution in the stream, Rural Action has seen an asset. True Pigments, LLC, a social enterprise of Rural Action, plans to build a facility on the newly acquired land that will extract the iron oxide from the discharge to create pigment that can be used in paint and other products. The result: Clean water flowing into Sunday Creek and a marketable product that can be sold to fund further watershed cleanups.

The team worked with Gamblin Artists Colors to create a limited release oil paint set called Reclaimed Earth Colors made from iron oxide from Sunday Creek. The set costs just over $40 and includes three colors: brown ochre, rust red and iron violet.

In December, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded of $3.5 million in pilot funding that was granted to the project from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Economic Development Pilot Program.

Over the last decade, Civil Engineering Chair and Professor Guy Riefler in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology has been researching how to remediate acid mine drainage. He has collaborated with Painting and Drawing Chair and Professor John Sabraw in the College of Fine Arts’ School of Art and Design, Rural Action, and dozens of Ohio University students to develop a way to transform iron from acid mine drainage into marketable paint pigments.

The OSMRE grant will fund the first phase of the project, which is in progress and includes Rural Action acquiring land surrounding the acid mine discharge, arranging financing for the remaining plant costs, and forming the business that will operate the plant and sell the paint pigments.

Rural Action is in the process of raising another $4 million through grants, state programs and debt capital to fund the next phase. This phase includes the installation of all the necessary components of the treatment facility, including the master control system, piping systems for water and sludge transport, pumps, aeration basins, clarifiers, thickeners, tanks and pigment drying and packaging systems.

The hope is for a full-scale plant to be constructed by 2021 or 2022.

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