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Toxic Art

Presented By: Rivers Are Life
"When we put people together from different disciplines and different backgrounds, that is when this magic happens”

A Colorful Predicament 

If you were to visit a school in Southeastern Ohio, you might encounter a young student reaching for an orange crayon to draw a picture of a river. In the area, acid mine drainage, stained by the rich hues of iron oxide, flows for approximately seven miles before it joins Sunday Creek. The pollution renders this stretch of waterway uninhabitable for aquatic life, but an ingenious and artistic approach is being used to confront the environmental challenge. 

An unlikely collaboration unfolded at Ohio University when Professor of Art John Sabraw and Professor of Civil Engineering Guy Riefler joined forces to craft a creative antidote for the pollution. Realizing the iron oxide nestled within the creek’s waters is the same substance used in many artists’ paints, the two set out to develop a new line of pigments created from the very pollution itself.

From Pollution to Solution  

Originally, John and Guy were working on this endeavor individually before a chance coffee-invite connected the two and sparked a years-long journey. The process today involves collected iron oxide sludge from the creek, pigment extraction, and varying temperatures for different colors. Their product—vibrant pigments used for paints—are now sold as True Pigments and help fund the circular process from pollution to solution.  

With the help of Michelle Shively MacIver, Director of Project Development at True Pigments, and Rural Action, this pollution-to-pigment process will move from a campus lab to a facility constructed in the historical coal mining area that now suffers from the acid mine drainage. The restoration of the nearby creek not only stands to enhance the production and sales of True Pigments but will also serve to further protect the surrounding watershed.  

Sunday Creek

Sunday Creek, located in southeastern Ohio, flows for approximately 20 miles through the Appalachian foothills cutting through a landscape characterized by rolling hills, lush forests, and small rural communities. Sunday Creek faces environmental challenges, including the legacy of coal mining in the region, which led to water pollution and habitat degradation.  

"Toxic Art" Premieres October 25th

2,183,065 Pounds

of iron oxide dump into Sunday Creek each year 

17 species

of native fish have returned to a monitoring site on Sunday Creek where previously there were ZERO 

6,650 stream miles

in Central Appalachia run orange due to the impact of acid mine drainage 


True Pigments is committed to turning the environmental destruction of yesterday’s extractive industries into a vibrant, regenerative environment and economy for the future.  

Show your support for an organization creating colors for a cleaner world!  

Join the Movement

We invite you to join the Rivers Are Life movement and be part of a new era of modern exploration highlighting the wonder of our planet’s rivers, the humans and wildlife that call them home, and the issues that threaten this vital natural resource. Together, we can learn, understand, and inspire the action that will lead to real change.

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