The Removal of Coal Mine Contaminates

by Jenna Mallon (’18)

Coal Mines.jpg
Fig. 1: Drainage from coal mines can have negative effects on water quality.

Numerous abandoned coal mines exist throughout the US, many of which are consistently spewing toxic drainage, known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), into our waters. AMD leads to elevations in sulfuric acid, iron, aluminum, and manganese levels, which leads to extensive environmental damage. Scientists have struggled to find a cost-effective and efficient way of removing these substances.

It has been hypothesized that fly ash, a side product from coal burning during energy production, has the ability to trap organic matter, odor-causing matter, and colored matter. Fly ash is also an acid neutralizer and can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Since data shows that 75% of fly ash is currently discarded in landfills, using it to help alleviate AMD would have a positive environmental impact.

Shadi Abu-Baker and a team of researchers from Ohio University Zanesville’s College of Arts and Scientists used column chromatography to test the effectiveness of fly ash in removing AMD. The team collected samples from the buckeye creek and analyzed them for pH, metal levels, and acidity. Using five columns, with 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 grams of fly ash respectively, the acid mine was run through each of the columns and the eluted samples were collected at the end.

Results from the study indicate that the column with 10 grams of fly ash was able to induce a 20-fold magnesium reduction. The fly ash was also able to reduce the pH of the samples to a range of 6.5-8.5, which is acceptable for natural waters.



  1. Abu-Baker, et al., Fly ash removal of contaminates from coal mine drainage. Natural Science, 8 397-402 (2016). doi: 10.4236/ns.2016.89043.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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