(CNN)With rolling hills, forests and hiking trails, Southeast Ohio is a haven for lovers of the outdoors. Yet cutting through the landscape are countless orange-stained streams, colored by the iron oxide pollution that has seeped into them from abandoned coal mines.
These streams are contaminated with a toxic sludge known as acid mine drainage (AMD) — the overflow of highly acidic wastewater from underground mines, created when water comes into contact with exposed mining rocks.
The UN has described AMD as one of the most severe long-term environmental consequences of mining and it affects coal mining regions around the world, from South Africa to the UK. The pollution can be so toxic to fish and other creatures that it leaves some waterways devoid of aquatic life.
Rivers can be cleaned up by neutralizing the acidity of AMD, but it’s an expensive process. But two professors at Ohio University have come up with a way to fund the clean-up of polluted rivers by extracting the iron oxide — a substance commonly used to make pigments — and turning it into artist-grade paint.