January 2005

Acid mine drainage has value

Harrisburg, PA— Pennsylvania has the potential to turn a detriment into a resource by promoting the recovery of usable raw materials from acid mine drainage. The process could have a positive and profound impact on the state’s economy and environment.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers and businesses spend more than $12 million each year to treat 23 billion gallons of acid mine drainage from active and abandoned coal mines,” environmental protection secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said. “The sludge from these treatment systems contains millions of dollars worth of dissolved iron, aluminum, manganese, gold and rare earth metals in consistent and sustainable amounts. Yet, we treat this material as waste rather than a resource.”

Representatives from industry, government and science are meeting in Johnstown at the annual Resource Recovery Conference to explore technological solutions and locate funding opportunities for research and business development. Deputy environmental protection secretary for Mineral Resources Management J. Scott Roberts attended the event.

Roberts noted that some Pennsylvania companies already are developing technology to use metals recovered from acid mine drainage in place of virgin powder needed to manufacture lightweight but strong bearings. Others are recovering iron oxide from acid mine drainage for use as a pigment to color paints and coatings, cement-based products, plastics, paper and mulch.

Conference participants reviewed the latest results from pilot resource recovery projects underway at acid mine drainage sites in Pennsylvania. The projects involve monitoring and metallurgical studies, experiments with electro-coagulation of dissolved metals, and collection and preparation of iron oxide, aluminum and manganese for use as a raw material by industry.

Representatives of regional and national iron and metal industries discussed potential applications and markets for these materials, and came to learn about the latest technology and equipment available for resource recovery from acid mind drainage sludge.

“Pennsylvania is saddled with the largest acid mine drainage problem in the U.S., with tens of thousands of discharges that pollute three of the largest river basins in the northeast,” Roberts said at the conference. “Taxpayers and businesses should not be expected to bear this burden alone. We have an opportunity to convert some of the nation’s worst pollution into a valuable asset that will create new jobs and businesses, help finance the restoration of our waterways and reduce the cost of acid mine drainage treatment for our coal industry.”

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