The images are surreal – creeks so orange they appear to be flowing with diluted lava rather than water – like something you would expect to find on the movie set of a b-list Mars invasion flick. And the smell – it’s like a thousand rotten eggs were puréed and added to the rusty mix.
But this isn’t Hollywood’s cliché construction of life on Mars. Rather, it’s a scene that residents of the Wyoming Valley live with every day – a not-so-subtle reminder of the industry that continues to define their communities.
We learned about Abandoned Mine Drainage – or AMD – early into the Ashley’s Breaker project, when we first connected with Bob Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR). Simply stated, AMD is polluted water that flows out of abandoned mines. And EPCAMR is working to reclaim abandoned mine lands and remediate streams and rivers impacted by AMD in Northeastern and North Center Pa.
It’s impressive – though seemingly overwhelming – work. But the work is also pretty awe-inspiring, especially looking at it through an artistic lens. So, what’s artistic about an orange, smelly creek? How about shoveling iron oxide sludge out of the water, baking it in a solar kiln, sifting it into fine powder, and selling it to artists.
The transformation of polluted mine sludge into art continues to mesmerize. And after watching a group of college students refine the art pigments during a service project with EPCAMR, we wanted in.
Bob graciously took us to some of the sites so that we could get up close and personal with AMD, and none was more spectacular than Solomon’s Creek in South Wilkes-Barre. There, we donned wading boots and ventured out into the sea of orange to stand beside one of three borehole-fountains as they gushed icy cold deep mine water. The experience was exhilarating, and, of course, prompted me to purchase packets of pigment when we returned to EPCAMR’s headquarters.
While I have yet to find time to experiment with the pigment myself, we did have the opportunity to interview Sue Hand, an artist who uses it regularly in her work (and the subject of a future post). In fact, Sue painted the very borehole that so intrigued and inspired us during our tour!
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