Coal water run-off meets rivers to form art

Think outside the square and you can find art even in sludge and slush.

An artist John Sabraw and environmental engineer Guy Riefler got together to create a piece of artwork from paints concocted from metallic run-off accumulated from polluted rivers in Ohio.

The run-off is water from old coal mines that streams into local rivers. When this happens the rivers become polluted with iron and the water becomes acidic.

When the water meets the air at the surface, the iron oxidises, resulting in a colourful orange sludge.

It is lethal for marine life, according to New Scientist.

Riefler was impressed by the colourful sight.

“I was coming back from rivers with stained socks,” Riefler said.

“Most pigments are iron-based anyway, and we thought that we could use this water to create paints.”

He would gather underground water before it was exposed to the air so that he could control the oxidation speed, creating a variety of colours of iron sludge.

Once dry, they can be ground down to make oil paints.

“Iron is remarkably flexible. You can create a range of different colours: yellow, oranges, red and blacks.”

Riefler wants to sell some of the paints commercially, in the hope of rehabilitating the rivers the pigments come from.

“There aren’t enough resources to clean up the rivers right now,” he said.

“We could produce a tonne of pigment per day. If we can generate a strong pigment the paint companies like, we can fund our mission to restore the rivers.”

Sabraw has been pointing to what makes a good pigment to Riefler and has been including the paints into his artwork.

“My job is to be the sensitive one,” he said.

“I play with the pigments and their mixing into paints and discuss their viability with Guy.”

Sabraw and Riefler are from Ohio University.

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