Lesson in mining
Students learn environmental stewardship, tie-dye shirts with water colored by chemicals removed from acid mine drainage
High school students learn about recycling and the environment.
Just “a fraction” of acid mine drainage water is being cleaned up in Pennsylvania, experts told high school students Friday.
About a dozen students from Shawn Darraugh’s employability skills class at Hazleton Area High School heard experts tell them about what acid mine drainage (AMD) is, where it comes from and the hazards it poses to people
he experts, from the Friends of the Nescopeck, the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) and the Schuylkill Headwaters Association spent the morning talking about AMD in a seminar sponsored by the Greater Hazleton Area Civic Partnership at the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce.
The seminar was held to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service on Monday by teaching students how to practice environmental stewardship.
Robert Hughes, EPCAMR’s executive director, said there is $15 billion in AMD to be treated in Pennsylvania. While there are about 300 treatment systems in operation in the state, they represent just a small portion of the AMD that needs to be treated, Hughes said.
Tim Ference and Gary Leander, members of the Friends of Nescopeck, said the Susquehanna River — which empties into the Chesapeake Bay — is polluted. The biggest source of pollution to the Susquehanna is the Jeddo Tunnel.
According to the Friends of the Nescopeck website, the Jeddo Tunnel is a series of five interconnected tunnels built by mine operators between 1891 and 1934 which drain mine pools in a 32-square-mile area. The tunnel system drains between 40,000 and 100,000 gallons of water per minute.
The Jeddo Tunnel empties into the Nescopeck Creek, which eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay, Ference said.
“The good news is that the Chesapeake is cleaner now than it has been in several years,” Ference said.
The water coming out of the Jeddo Tunnel — and out of other abandoned mining areas — is acidic, because there is iron and aluminum in the water, Hughes said. The acidity kills any aquatic life.
Nate Hafer, a Volunteer In Service to America (VISTA) volunteer working with the Schuylkill Headwater group, said pyrite, which contains iron and sulfur, dissolves minerals and causes water to turn red, orange or yellow, or what miners used to call “yellow boy.”
Mine workings in Northeastern Pennsylvania are extensive, Hafer said. At its height in 1917, 156,000 miners produced 100 million tons of anthracite coal from 776 mines, compared to 4.8 million tons produced in the region in 2012.
There are 160 abandoned mine sites in Schuylkill County alone, Hafer said. Schuylkill Headwaters oversees six treatment systems, including the Silver Creek system in New Philadelphia. That system treats about 12,000 gallons of water per minute.
EPCAMR harvests the iron oxide from the water where it can and tries to find a use for it.
For instance, the metal can be extracted and turned into a pigment that is used for ceramic glazes and other products.
Friday, students tie-dyed T-shirts from the pigment. EPCAMR shreds its office paper and adds the pigment to make Christmas ornaments, Hughes said.
Students also heard presentations from representatives of Nescopeck State Park and Eckley Miners Village and Museum.
Robert Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, talks about acid mine water drainage from abandoned area mines to students in the employability skills class at Hazleton Area High School during a seminar hosted by Greater Hazleton Area Civic Partnership. The event was held Friday at the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce.
Robert Hughes dips a shirt into a bucket of water colored with recycled iron oxide that was reclaimed from acid mine water drainage from abandoned area mines.
Sophomores Kandase Butler, left, and Destiny Scalise prepare T-shirts for tie-dying using recycled iron oxide from drainage water from abandoned mines.
Freshman Anthony Smith uses rocks, marbles and rubber bands to ready his shirt for a colorful dip in water colored with iron oxide from mine water.