Toxic Runoff Yellow and Other Paint Colors Sourced From Polluted Streams

By Megan Gambino

Photos © John Sabraw

John Sabraw, an associate professor of art at Ohio University, uses sustainable materials in his own artwork. He takes slimy, metal-laden runoff from coal mines and turns it into paint. Toxic runoff from coal mines and commercial red and yellow paints have a common ingredient—ferric oxyhydroxides. Once the acidic ground water hits the air, the metals in it oxidize and the once-clear water turns yellow, orange, red or brown. To make paints of these colors, international companies basically mimic this reaction, adding chemicals to water tanks containing scrap metals.

Sabraw has been impressed with the range of colors that can be made with the iron oxides (above). “You can get anything from a mustardy yellow all the way to an incredibly rich, deep, deep almost-black brown out of it,” he says.

See more at Smithsonian.com.

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