Innovation That Matters

Paint produced from toxic sludge could fund cleanup of polluted streams

Fashion & Beauty

Toxic sludge paint, made from the iron oxide pigments found in polluted streams, could fund its own large scale clean-up operation.

In Southern Ohio, pollution from old coal mines has been contaminating nearby streams for years, turning the water bright orange. The process of cleaning the water is very expensive, but a new initiative has found a way to fund the operation — transforming the toxic sludge, which is full of iron oxides, into paint. The paint, which has been tested out by artist John Sabraw, could soon be ready for mass production — meaning the sludge itself could fund its own large scale clean-up operation, or even turn a profit.

The research project is led by professor Guy Riefler from Ohio University who approached Sabraw to try out the pigment. Sabraw has used the unusual paints to create a series of textured paintings, inspired by the way the sludge swirled in the streams and the repeating patterns of nature. These pieces are currently on exhibition at the Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago.

A single site could generate up to 2,000 pounds of pigment in just one day, which can be sold for 50 cents a pound — meaning the project could easily become self-funding and hopefully inspire similar projects elsewhere: West Virginia, Pennslyvania and Australia all have similar problems with mine pollution.

We have seen ‘waste’ turned into commercial products before — Rivesti recently launched a range of interior wall tiles produced from recycled PET bottles — but this project cuts out the middle man, meaning more profit to fund the work. Are there other projects which could commercialize expensive cleanups?





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