Pilot Project Encourages Private Firms to Treat Acid Mine Drainage
The cost of treating the acid mine drainage that has damaged more than 6,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams has kept many companies from getting into the cleanup business, but that may change with the state’s support of innovative technology now being used in Cambria County.
Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty this week visited a pilot project where a portion of the polluted St. Michael’s mine shaft discharge is being treated and materials are being extracted so they can be used in other products.
If successful, Secretary McGinty said, more companies will pursue stream restoration work because of the financial incentive, which would relieve the demand on limited state and federal government resources.
“Historically, treating acid mine drainage has been an expensive proposition that produced the environmental benefit of cleaner water,” said Secretary McGinty, “There was little incentive for private companies to engage in this kind of work, so state and federal governments had to pick up the tab. The technology demonstrated by this pilot project could change all of that.”
The project, which is a joint effort of the Winner Technology and Research Institute—part of Winner International—and the Battelle Memorial Institute, benefited from a $1.5 million state investment through Growing Greener II.
Scientists from the two groups are adapting a process used in the heavy metals industry to extract materials from the acid mine water discharge that are common in many abandoned Pennsylvania mines.
At the St. Michael’s site, workers are extracting potassium sulfate for use as commercial fertilizer and ferrous sulfate to treat wastewater. The process also eliminates the sludge that is typically created when iron and other minerals are removed from the acid mine drainage.
Traditionally, this sludge must be pumped into an underground mine pool or disposed of in a landfill.
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