A US non-profit is saving the environment, by turning pollution from mining into vibrant pigments that are used in paint. Rural Action, a members-based not-for-profit based in Appalachian Ohio, was founded in 1991, on a mission to create environmental change in the rural Appalachian communities.
One of the changes they are passionate about is finding a way to combat the pollution in their waterways. In order to do this the group created a social enterprise called True Pigments.
In collaboration with Gamblin Colors, a Portland-based paint company, True Pigments have released a limited edition range of oil paints named Reclaimed Earth Colors.
So how is it possible to create paint from mining pollution?
Simply put, the pigments for the paint are created from iron oxide, the toxic residue that is leaking from mines in the Appalachia region, and running into the water supply. This runoff pollution from mining is called Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). The toxic levels of heavy metals are released during rainfalls, when rainwater seeps into the underground mines, absorbing the metals which then flow into rivers and streams.
In The Sunday Creek Watershed, a mostly rural area with several small communities and villages, sits the TrueTown Discharge, the largest AMD site. This site drains 998 gallons of AMD into waterway and streams per minute. Over a year this equals 2.2 million pounds of iron oxide draining into the Sunday Creek. The water in this area was so toxic that no fish were found in it.
Rural Action are now taking action on this issue. Working with the University of Ohio, they began by creating a small treatment center, collecting the contaminated water in large tanks. After the water is collected, a base is added to neutralize its acidity, and then oxygen is added.
The result is that non-toxic iron oxide sinks to the bottom of the tank, whilst lean water stays at the top. The clean water is returned to the river, and the iron oxide is dried into pigments. The idea was then formed that these pigments could be turned into beautiful paints.
Thanks to their collaboration with Gamblin colors this is now a reality. The paint set they created comes with three colours- Rust Red, Iron Violet, and Brown Ochre. The different colors are achieved by heating the iron oxide pigments to different temperatures. However, the set sold out quickly due to high demand.
Rural Action is in the midst of expanding their operations. In 2019 the group were awarded a $3.5 million dollar grant to design and build a full-scale AMD treatment and pigment production facility.
The new treatment plant has the capacity to treat 1.4 million gallons of water and produce over 5,000 lbs of pigment every day. They hope to have this facility up and running by 2023.
Not only will this facility eradicate pollution in rivers in the area, it will also create local jobs. One of TruePigments’ aims is to bring prosperity to an area that has struggled with poverty.
The iron oxide pigment industry is worth $335 million in the US. Currently the country imports the majority of its iron oxide pigments from China. TruePigments will produce 1% of iron oxide pigments once they open their first plant. These pigments are used in many other industries, including construction and concrete.
The social enterprise is planning to expand to other areas affected by AMD in the future. And to quote their website:
‘We will identify similar discharges and do it again. And again. And again.’