Artist creates mesmerizing paintings using coal pollution from local streams

October 15, 2020 by  
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You gaze at a vibrant collision of color. Are you looking at the Earth? Is this bacteria under a microscope? Is it a distant galaxy through the lens of a telescope? Or could it be a rainbow of unique pigments created from none other than a stream of coal mine pollution? As it turns out, this series of art by John Sabraw reflects many meanings, and it symbolizes a deep commitment to the planet. You see, the art is in fact made using pigments derived from the iron oxide in acid mine drainage. In beautiful southeastern Ohio, an area lush with trees and rolling hills dotted with small towns throughout, defunct  coal mines  have left their mark on the environment years after their closures. But a group of artists, engineers and dedicated community members are finding ways to clean up the pollution and turn it into something meaningful. A stream of pollution Back around 2007,  Sabraw , an artist and professor at Ohio University, began working with a local environmental group after years of working with environmentalists and scientists on various projects. The group, called Kanawha, toured southeastern Ohio, and Sabraw was instantly struck by the smelly, red-orange  pollution  in many of the region’s streams.  Related: #degrowth art series exposes greenwashing in the food industry “This is mainly iron oxide, that is the heavy metal polluting the  stream ,” Sabraw told Inhabitat. “Most of the earth-based pigments I use are made of iron oxide, so I took some with me and played with them in the studio. This is the first time I started thinking this could be turned into pigments or paint product.” As it turns out, another Ohio University professor,  Guy Riefler , was already using his skills as an environmental engineer to turn the iron oxide from the acid mining drainage into paint. The two professors connected and began working on a new project together that would both create a viable product and clean up the streams: a win-win. What is acid mine drainage? But where is all of this iron oxide coming from, and why is it a problem? “It comes from abandoned and improperly sealed coal mines,” Sabraw explained. There are many abandoned  coal mines  not just throughout southeastern Ohio but around the world. When it rains, water leaches into these underground mines, where it picks up heavy metals before finding its way to the surface and draining into aquatic habitats. “ Aquatic life  is very sensitive to pH. They want to be around 7 pH or even lower on occasion, but acidic water is around pH 2 to pH 4,” Sabraw said. “They can’t live in that environment. The second thing is iron oxide gets to the surface of the water and is activated by sunlight. There is more oxygen in the atmosphere. Instead of dissolving, the iron becomes crystalized onto the creekbed. That covered creekbed inhibits growth; very few things can live in that.” Saving aquatic life That’s what makes the project so crucial. Removing the iron oxide will help return the streams to their natural state, where aquatic life can thrive. With iron oxide present, you’re unlikely to find any  fish  swimming around in these streams. So Sabraw, Riefler and groups of volunteers visit Appalachian streams to collect iron oxide and turn it into something useful. On a small scale, they go collect the iron oxide deposits on creek beds, then wash and purify it before neutralizing the acidity. The result? A product that is over 98% pure iron oxide with very few contaminants. The iron oxide is cooked at extremely high temperatures to remove any remaining biomatter. They are also working on  building a multi-million dollar facility  that can mimic this collection and purification process on a much larger scale. In fact, the goal is to produce pigments that they can sell to generate enough money to cover the cost of pollution cleanups. Another goal is to insert pumps in the old mines that will access the iron oxide before it ever leaves the source. Clean, safe water will then be returned to the streams and creeks. Cleaning up for the community There can sometimes be a disconnect between the  local community  and those affiliated with the university. But luckily, that hasn’t been the case with this project. Sabraw, Riefler and their team hope the planned facility will create local jobs and clean up the streams, where families can fish and play. The facility will double as an educational center and will include a wetland sculpture park that will even display the impacts of climate change, particularly during seasonal flooding. The local response has been overwhelmingly positive. “[These communities] remember when they played in clean creeks and fished for dinner. They remember it changing, becoming orange and acidic; they’d jump in to swim and come out with orange underwear,” Sabraw said. “This is not some place that they are skipping in to do a job and leave. This is home, this is heart.” Their work has also garnered international attention. “More than anything else, artists want to know how they can do something similar, take the ability to think differently, spatially, and apply it to issues in our world.” Pollution becomes art Sabraw has used the iron oxide pigments in his own series of  artworks , which feature mesmerizing, swirling patterns of color confined within circles. Aside from the direct inspiration from the polluted streams, Sabraw approaches his work with a sustainable mindset. “We are in a critical era,” Sabraw told Inhabitat. “There’s no time left to decide that we want to work to consciously and purposefully create a sustainable future for humans on this planet. My concerns surround the ways I can attack this myself and open my abilities up to other experiences and ideas to collectively create a new way of living on the planet together.” The art showcases how many things on this planet are happening simultaneously to create “a sense of wonder, openness and also mystery and a question of purpose.” Making a difference one stream at a time Beyond the art, Sabraw and Riefler hope the project expands beyond the borders of Ohio and across not just the country but the globe. While streams worldwide may have varying chemistries, the  technology  could be applied to abandoned mines everywhere. If you’re sitting there wondering whether or not to focus your own work on sustainability, Sabraw says, without a doubt, to do so. “There’s a funny phrase that if you are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room. I’ve never been in the wrong room. I’m not the smartest guy ever. Artists need to decide they can be in a space that is uncomfortable and still have a major impact on how things happen.” + John Sabraw Photography by Ashley Stottlemyer, Ben Siegel, John Sabraw and Gamblin via John Sabraw

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Artist creates mesmerizing paintings using coal pollution from local streams

Testing the mettle of the aluminum cup

March 23, 2020 by  
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Which is better: reusable, unrecyclable plastic or single-use, recyclable aluminum?

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Testing the mettle of the aluminum cup

‘Red flag for COP26’: Most high-carbon companies shooting ‘wide of the mark’ for a 2C world

March 23, 2020 by  
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Investor-led Transitions Pathway Initiative warns four in five firms in carbon-intensive sectors currently fail Paris Agreement test.

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‘Red flag for COP26’: Most high-carbon companies shooting ‘wide of the mark’ for a 2C world

Mine waste dams threaten the environment, even when they don’t fail

March 17, 2020 by  
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The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.

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Mine waste dams threaten the environment, even when they don’t fail

Minimalist home in the Brazilian countryside is made from mining waste

December 6, 2019 by  
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Brazilian architectural firm Gustavo Penna Arquiteto e Associados (GPA&A) has unveiled a tiny, minimalist home with a small stature that conceals a powerhouse of sustainable design. Located in a former mining region, the architects decided to build the 484-square-foot Sustentable House out of bricks manufactured from mining sludge waste. The family home is also installed with solar panels and a wind turbine to produce energy and heat water. Additionally, the residence is almost completely zero-waste thanks to an integrated waste water treatment system and organic waste incinerator. The small home is located in the pristine, mountainous area of Ouro Branco, once an important base located on the transportation route from the mines of Minas Gerais to the coast. Paying homage to the region’s history, the architects were able to construct the Sustentable House with bricks made out of the byproducts of mining . Related: Sustainable desert home has a small water footprint in Nevada Tucked into an open lot surrounded by forest, the house sits on a small, flat plot of a sloping hill. The volume has a cube-like base topped with a slanted rooftop. The sloped roof was an important factor in protecting the interior from direct sunlight . The roof was also installed with a small solar array that heats water for the residence, although it will eventually power the entire home. At the front of the building, a wall rises up past the slanted rooftop. The cutout space in this section is outfitted with a wind turbine that generates energy for the home. The design also incorporates an organic waste incinerator that produces energy through hot air and an integrated, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system that can be used as an additional power system. All of these sustainable features are wrapped up in one gorgeous design. The two-bedroom house’s brick walls wrap around the exterior and interior, except for the front facade, which is made out of floor-to-ceiling glass panels. The wide glass doors slide open completely, opening up the living room to the great outdoors. This allows the homeowners to enjoy unobstructed views of the mountains and valleys that stretch out across the horizon. + GPA&A Via ArchDaily Photography by Jomar Bragança via GPA&A

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Minimalist home in the Brazilian countryside is made from mining waste

Rare earth minerals power the world, but mining leaves local and global footprints in the land

October 4, 2019 by  
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The mining industry has work to do to ensure that communities and workers are safe from pollution and injury.

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Rare earth minerals power the world, but mining leaves local and global footprints in the land

Dig for legitimacy: The case for good ESG in mining

September 12, 2019 by  
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Increasing scrutiny has delivered major improvements in the mining industry’s approach to environmental and social governance.

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Dig for legitimacy: The case for good ESG in mining

Restaurants are helping to drive carbon farming practices

September 12, 2019 by  
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The industry that’s bigger than agriculture and retail can incentivize regenerative land management practices.

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Restaurants are helping to drive carbon farming practices

4 reasons why urban landscapes are a linchpin for climate resilience

September 12, 2019 by  
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Properly designed and managed using sustainable landscape strategies, outdoor areas can help communities significantly.

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4 reasons why urban landscapes are a linchpin for climate resilience

How much carbon dioxide is actually in your products?

August 8, 2019 by  
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Production might be out of sight, out of mind, but CO2 is embedded in products through minerals and materials. How do we measure it?

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How much carbon dioxide is actually in your products?

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