Toxic Art: The proof is in the paint

An Ohio team thinks they can clean up streams by turning pollution into paint. They just need your help to prove it.

Acid Mine Drainage near Oreton, Ohio — Aerial View
©2018 Ohio University, All rights Reserved. Photo by Ben Siegel.

John Sabraw, Guy Riefler, and Michelle Shively have a not-so- dirty little secret they want you to know about. They have a clean solution to Ohio’s stream pollution and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to get it off the ground. The team is turning toxic acid mine drainage (AMD) into non-toxic paint pigment and constructing a pilot plant to prove their process can
work on an industrial scale.

Schematic of pilot plant and art wall enclosure, Corning, Ohio — Aerial View
©2018 Ohio University, All rights Reserved. Photo by Ben Siegel.

For decades, abandoned coals mines have been oozing AMD — polluting up to 1,300 miles of waterways in Ohio alone. “Some of the seeps we work with release over one million gallons of polluted water a day. This water can have a final pH below 2 and carry over 2000 lbs. of iron. It’s like junking two cars in the stream every single day”, says Sabraw. This high concentration of acid and heavy metals not only annihilates aquatic life, but can contaminate drinking water and corrode infrastructure like bridges; it’s both an ecological and economic concern.

Acid Mine Drainage near Oreton, Ohio
©2018 Art Boy Inc., All rights Reserved. Photo by John Sabraw.

Environmental engineer Riefler and artist activist Sabraw saw a beautiful solution to a disastrous problem. They could turn the iron oxide into paint and simultaneously clean up the polluted streams. “We intercept the toxic acid mine drainage before it gets to the stream, neutralize the acidity, extract the iron oxide and release the clean water back into the stream. The iron oxide can be ground into pigment and blended with different binders to make paint. In creating a viable product from contamination, our process provides a closed loop. We’ve made it possible to restore the streams from their own clean-up,” explains Sabraw.

AMD pigments heated to different tempuratures and the resulting color changes.
©2018 Art Boy Inc., All rights Reserved. Photo by John Sabraw.
John Sabraw using AMD pigments to make one of his “Chroma” paintings.
©2018 Art Boy Inc., All rights Reserved. Photo by John Sabraw.

The Ohio University professors have been perfecting the pigment in their lab since 2010. To demonstrate the pigments’ quality, Sabraw has used them in his own paintings. Thanks to a partnership with Gamblin Artists Colors, artists all over can experiment with stunning, sustainable pigments like “Reclaimed Earth Violet”.

AMD pigments being made into “Reclaimed Earth Violet” oil piant at Gamblin Artists Colors in Portland Oregon. ©2018 Gamblin, All rights Reserved.

Now partnered with watershed expert Michelle Shively, the team is building a pilot facility in Corning, Ohio. Not only will the plant demonstrate that the process is scalable, but it will also serve as an immersive, educational installation.

Our team: Engineer, Artist, Watershed Specialist at Sunday Creek, Corning, Ohio.
©2018 Art Boy Inc., All rights Reserved. Photo by John Sabraw.

You can be part of this full-circle pollution solution. By supporting the team’s Kickstarter campaign, you’ll be contributing towards the pilot plant’s enclosure wall and artwork made from AMD pigments. Rewards range from your name on the wall, to a tube of limited edition “Reclaimed Earth Violet” oil paint, to a custom painting by John Sabraw.

Gamblin Reclaimed Earth Violet and AMD pigment set available through pledge to Toxic Art Kickstarter project.
©2018 Art Boy Inc., All rights Reserved. Photo by John Sabraw.