Artist John Sabraw has been working with civil engineer and Ohio State University professor Guy Riefler on a project intended to highlight a big problem for Ohio's rivers. Treehugger reports that mining activity has polluted the water in many areas, leaching heavy metals and other toxins into the water from improperly sealed coal mines. An estimated 1,300 miles of waterway have been effected by acid mine drainage, the acidic water that flows from the places where people once worked. Some of the mines still polluting the water are over a hundred years old.
Riefler conducted experiments with his students at the university and discovered that it was fairly easy to separate the water from the iron inside, at least in small jug-sized batches. He told science blog ASME, "You just neutralize the water with the addition of a base to adjust the ph, and then oxidize the water. The ferrous iron converts to ferric iron and precipitates out."
While separating the iron out was easy, turning it into pigment was beyond Riefler's experience. He reached out to Sabraw because he knew that he had experience making his own paints, and a collaboration was born.