Hands-on Experiments to test for
Acid Mine Drainage

Dr. Eleanora I. Robbins
United State Geological Survey
956 National Center
Reston, VA 20192

Sandra L. McSurdy
Department of Energy
Pittsburgh Research Center
P.O. Box 10940
Pittsburgh, PA 15236

Timothy D. Craddock
West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection
Office of Water Resources
1201 Greenbrier Street
Charleston, WV 25311

StudyWeb Academic Excellence Award

This Web Page is updated and maintained by Timothy Craddock. It was last updated on February 21, 2001

956 National Center
Reston, VA 20192

Dear Kids, Teachers, Parents, Guardians, and all Concerned Citizens:

This is a prototype for a new book we want to write for kids. This is the First Draft and we want kids to help write it. If they do, their names and comments will appear in the book. The deadline for submissions is March 2001. Right now, we would love to hear your questions. What questions do you have about acid mine drainage, colors in the water, critters in the water, or any other water quality questions? Our addresses are on the cover page. Please write or e-mail nrobbins@usgs.gov with your comments or questions.

My sister and I wrote a science book for kids in 1992. (It is now out of print by the federal government and only available from Colorado School of Mines.) It is called "What's Under Your Feet?" We talked to many scientist while we were writing the book. One fascinating finding was that most scientist find their vocation (what they would like to do when they grow-up) by age 8 or 9. This means that, when they were children, they were making observations about their environment. These observations were so powerful that they formed the basis for understanding how the world works. Now, everyone is not going to become a scientist. But everyone is going to enter the job market. It is my opinion that environmental clean up is going to provide many jobs in the future. I think that if we get the kids out and looking and getting dirty now, they will have a body of observational knowledge needed to compete in that future job market.

The kinds of experiments that are laid out here are some of the very things that scientist do when they are trying to understand the natural environment and to help clean up problems left from past activities. The observations that kids will be making will also be helping present day scientists.

These are our thoughts on why we put these experiments together. We are outdoor people, so we have written this for other outdoor lovers. Some of the experiments are also indoor activities. In the next section is a general description of some goals and objectives we hope to accomplish with these experiments. As you try them and invent new ones at home and at school, please keep these goals and objectives in mind, but also keep fun in mind.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Eleanora (Norrie) Robbins

You can use this page by scrolling to the areas that interest you the most, you can click on the links provided in the Table of Contents, and for even more information you can search the web using the internal web browser. If you would like the complete 'Hands-on Experiments to test for Acid Mine Drainage' for your computer, simply send an e-mail request to Timothy Craddock (e-mail address is on the first page).  The document is available in 'Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat formats', please specify which format you prefer in your e-mail request.  The document will be sent to you as an attachment by return e-mail.  You can also click on the link below to download the Adobe version.  Feel free to send us your comments and/or suggestions regarding this site, or questions about any of the information contained within.
Download Adobe Acrobat Reader: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

Hands-on Experiments to test for Acid Mine Drainage (PDF version): http://pubs.usgs.gov/openfile/of00-369/of00-369.pdf

Being "scientific" involves being curious, asking how things happen, and learning how to find the answers. Curiosity is natural to children, but they need help understanding how to make sense of what they see. All we need is a willingness to observe and learn with them, and, above all, to make an effort and take the time to nurture their natural curiosity.

What Is Science? - The Basics

Science is not just a collection of facts. Facts are a part of science. We all need to know some basic scientific information: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the earth moves around the sun. But science is much more. It includes: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov describes science as "a way of thinking, a way to look at the world." Science also involves trial and error - trying, failing, and trying again. Science does not provide all the answers. It requires us to be skeptical so that our scientific "conclusions" can be modified or changed altogether as we make new discoveries.

Children Have Their Own Ideas

Children develop their own ideas about the physical world, ideas that reflect their special perspectives. Below are some perceptions from some sixth grade students: Children's experiences help them form their ideas, and these often don't match current scientific interpretations. We need to allow our children to ask questions and make mistakes without feeling "stupid." We can help our children look at things in new ways. For instance, in regard to the blizzard, we could ask; "Have you ever seen it snow sideways? What do you think causes it to move sideways sometimes?"

Hands-on Works Best

Children, especially younger ones, learn science best and understand scientific ideas better if they are able to investigate and experiment. Hands-on science can also help children think critically and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems. Some science teachers have explained it this way: The goals and objectives of "Hands-on Experiments to test for Acid Mine Drainage" are to help us all become more familiar with one of our environmental pollution problems, "Acid Mine Drainage." However, its ultimate goal is to encourage us to get outside, develop a better understanding about our environment through observation and experimentation, and help us become aware of how human activities can change the nature of our environment.

Acid Mine Drainage Experiments
Table of Contents

Search for:

Contents Activity and Page Numbers
Make your own litmus paper AMD-Activity #1
What is acid and how do you know it? AMD-Activity #2
If your creek water is clear – Is it clean? AMD-Activity #3
Why does acid mine drainage form? AMD-Activity #4
What plants love acid water? AMD-Activity #5 
Who is very small and living in your creek? AMD-Activity #6 
What is in your creek water? AMD-Activity #7 
How many colors does iron (Fe) have? AMD-Activity #8 
What is that black stuff on the rocks? AMD-Activity #9 
Is the groundwater acid also? AMD-Activity #10 
What is the white stuff in the creek? AMD-Activity #11 
How can acid mine drainage be fixed? AMD-Activity #12 
Using stinky bacteria to treat acid mine drainage AMD-Activity #13 
Tips for Designing your own Experiment
Resources for more Information
Internet links

Enviro-facts about Acid Mine Drainage

The experiments in this site should always be done with the proper supervision from a teacher or parent. Always use caution and the proper protective equipment (Recommendations: rubber boots, gloves, safety glasses) when you are in or around a stream. Additional safety tips are listed below. Always make sure you have permission before entering private property. "Do not go stream collecting without an adult!"

Safety Tips: Always use the buddy system, have an adult check the stream flow and the stream bottom for sharp objects, and when wading in a stream, always wear shoes with rubber soles and good traction. Do not enter the stream if you cannot see the bottom, or do not enter after a hard rain. Wait for several days of dry weather before conducting any outside experiment in or around a stream.  Do not go stream collecting without a responsible adult!

Making your own litmus paper

The pH of a substance is a measurement (color change or number change) of how much acid or base a substance may contain. Many acids and bases are important to the internal chemical reactions that take place in living things. Most living things attempt to keep themselves at equilibrium (neutral), but this is sometimes very difficult due to the pH of the surrounding environment. As you can see from the picture above, the pH scale (the measure of acids and bases) ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being the middle or neutral point. A substance with a pH of less than 7 is acidic and if it greater than 7 it is basic, also called alkaline. Each time there is a change in pH of one unit, it is the same as multiplying ten times (increase or decrease) the strength of the acid or base. Litmus paper is one way to measure the strength of an acid or base substance. Other ways include, electronic pH meters and test kits that will measure acids and bases by comparing color scales. Check the web site's below for more information.

Tools and Things you will need

Red cabbage 5 x 8 white card Plastic sheet to contain mess
Lemon juice Vinegar Blender
Strainer Baking soda Eye dropper

What to do.

  1. Pull off the cabbage leaves.
  2. Press them down hard on the white card until the card turns purple (6th grader Peter Cable discovered that the purple in the leaves works the best).
  3. When you have turned the whole card purple, put a drop of each test substance on the card.
More things to do (You'll need a blender and adult supervision).
  1. Cut cabbage into chunks.
  2. Blend the cabbage chunks into a blender until liquid.
  3. Strain the contents of the blended cabbage with the strainer.
  4. Mix a drop of this liquid with the substance being tested.
Hint: Lemon juice and vinegar are acids and should turn the paper pink (lower pH). Baking soda is a base and should turn the paper green (higher pH). If there are no color changes with your test liquids, this means they are neutral.

Definition of Litmus Paper:http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/00085.html
Definition of Acids and Bases: http://www.chem4kids.com/reactions/acidbase.html

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What is acid and how do you know it?

Robert Angus Smith, an English chemist, was the first to use the phrase "acid rain" in 1852. He noticed that the bricks in the buildings were falling apart, and through scientific experimentation, later found that there was a connection between London’s polluted skies and the pH of its rainfall. Most scientist today agree that normal rainfall is slightly acidic with a pH of 5.6. The rain naturally reacts with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form a weak carbonic acid. Therefore, scientists define acid rain as any wet precipitation (rain, sleet, and snow) with a pH of less than 5.6. The rain becomes more acidic when it reacts with other gases in the atmosphere such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These other gases are naturally present in the atmosphere in small amounts; Industrial activities have increased their amounts.

Tools and Things you will need

Bowl Stirring rod Measuring cup
Litmus paper Miscellaneous substances(1)
  1. Vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, chalk, milk of magnesia, cola, or coffee - a few drops of each
What to do.
  1. Get a cup of water out of your local creek and pour it into a bowl.
  2. Wash and dry the measuring cup.
  3. Test the pH of the water with litmus paper (acids turn the paper pink).
  4. Measure out one cup of baking soda.
  5. If the water is acid (pH less than 7), slowly stir baking soda into the bowl.
  6. Test with new litmus paper periodically until the paper turns blue. (This happens when the acid is neutralized.)
  7. Repeat with a variety of acids (lemon juice, cola, and coffee) and a variety of bases (milk, milk of magnesia, and chalk).
What did you see?
  1. How much baking soda was needed to neutralize your creek water, coke, lemon juice etc.?
  2. What happened when you combined two different acids?
  3. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. Which substance had the highest pH (was the most basic)?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what think."
General Chemistry On-line: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/index.shtml
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If your creek water is clear – Is it clean?

Studying Aquatic Organisms

Every creek has a different chemistry; Some are polluted others are not. One good way to learn about your creeks chemistry is to study the aquatic life (Macroinvertebrate) in the creek. Biologist and others have collected these organisms from many different places and many different types of creeks. By studying the Macroinvertebrate in the creeks, you can learn something about the chemistry of the water and the health of the creek.

Tools and Things you will need

Gloves Rubber boots Fine mesh netting
Tweezers (forceps) Collection jars Litmus paper
Reference materials

What to do.

  1. Test the pH of the water with litmus paper. "Write it down."
  2. Find a stretch of your creek that has a riffle. A riffle is a shallow rapid where water flows swiftly over small rocks (cobblestones).
  3. Stretch a net downstream from the riffle.
  4. Kick and rub the cobblestones to get the aquatic organisms to fall off the rocks. Do this for two to three minutes (Make sure you rub the rocks upstream from the net.)
  5. Collect the aquatic organisms caught in the net and place them in a jar.
  6. Lay out the aquatic organisms and compare them to the pictures found in this document or other sources.
What did you see?
  1. How many aquatic organisms came off the cobblestones?
  2. What kind of aquatic organisms were there?
  3. What other things were collected in the net?
  4. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. What information can you interpret from the types of aquatic organisms?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
The next page contains information to help you identify some of the more common aquatic organisms that are found in streams. For more information visit the Web Pages below:

EPA's Macroinvertebrate Identification: http://www.epa.gov/ceis/atlas/bioindicators/benthosidentification.html
West Virginia Save Our Streams Handbook: http://www.dep.state.wv.us/wr/OWR_Website/C_and_D/CandDDocs/wapdocs/WVSOS/WVSOS.pdf
Macroinvertebrate ID Key: http://www.people.virginia.edu/~sos-iwla/Stream-Study/Key/MacroKeyIntro.HTML

Some Common Aquatic Organisms (Macroinvertebrate)

The aquatic organisms above are generally "pollution intolerant," which means they cannot live in streams that are polluted, even in small amounts. Their presence in large numbers is usually an indication of good water quality.

The aquatic organisms above are "pollution sensitive," which means they can tolerate small amounts of pollutants. Their presence generally indicates moderately good water quality conditions.

The aquatic organisms above are generally "pollution tolerant," which means they can live in streams that have high amounts of pollutants. Their presence in large numbers is usually an indication of poor water quality.

Note: The Macroinvertebrate pictured above are not to scale, meaning they are not the actual size as they will be if you find them in your creek. They are also not to scale in relation to the size differences between each organism.

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Why does acid mine drainage form?

The Weathering Process

In many areas, acid drainage forms naturally when certain minerals come into contact with water, air and bacteria. This contact and the chemical reactions that take place are part of the weathering process. The weathering of the rocks and minerals in the creek slowly releases the acids, salts, metals and sulfates into creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands. Weathering is a natural process, but many times human activities interfere and can increase the amounts. When too much of these acids and minerals enter creeks, they become polluted and can no longer support animals.

Tools and Things you will need

Limestone Tap water Litmus paper
Gloves Rubber boots Pieces of ore (2)
Bottles Rocks or solid materials (1) Coal chunks
  1. Use small pieces
  2. Iron, aluminum, or magnesium ores are available at local science and nature supply stores such as, the World of Science. Visit their web site at: http://www.worldofscience.com/
What to do.
  1. Collect solid materials that are found where you live.
  2. Add tap water to bottles. Measure the pH with litmus paper.
  3. Add one type of solid material to each of the water bottles. You may want to crush the solid materials into small pieces to get better results.
  4. Put water but no solids in one bottle. (This is called your control.)
  5. Measure the pH over time and write down what you see.
What did you see?
  1. What materials lowered the pH of the water?
  2. What materials raised the pH of the water?
  3. How long did it take for acid to form?
  4. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. What materials in your area do you think can cause acid mine drainage?
  2. How could you prevent acid mine drainage from forming?
  3. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Modules and Activities - Exploring Acid Mine Drainage: http://cotf.edu/ete/modules/waterq/wqacidmine.html
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What types of plants like acid water?

There are very few plants that prefer acid conditions in creeks. However, some plants such as cattails can help to change the chemistry of the water by the uptake of pollutants and trapping of materials with their root systems. (For more examples of acid loving plants check the web site below.) These plants work in cooperation with bacteria in the soil to help improve the condition of the water. Today scientists are testing many of these plants to see how they are able to do this. By learning more, scientist are able to create new environments, such as wetlands, to help improve conditions in acid streams.

Tools and Things you will need

Small shovel or dowel Litmus paper Rubber boots
Gloves Magnifying lens

Caution: Some plants have spines or sticky substances to annoy animals.

What to do.

  1. Test the pH of the water with litmus paper. (Is your creek acidic?)
  2. Collect, Draw, or take photos of some of the plants growing along side your creek. If you collect plants, only take one. If you find only one plant by your creek, do not collect it. We would prefer that you draw or take pictures of the plants instead.
  3. Take any plants that you collect and press them in a phone book between sheets of newspaper.
  4. Identify and make a list of these plants.
  5. Dig out one or two of the plants to the root, or find their seeds to see if you can get them to grow somewhere else (do not take any plants without permission).
  6. Take a field trip to a wetland area.
What did you see?
  1. What types of plants grow along the creek?
  2. What kind and color of soil did they grow in (hard, soft, squishy, wet, orange, black, or gray)?
  3. What equipment did you need to keep the plants alive?
  4. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. What information did the plants give you?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Plants Suitable for Wetland Remediation: http://psybergate.com/wetfix/WetlandFix/WetlandFix4/Part4.htm
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Who is very small and living in your creek?

Looking at Bacteria and Algae

Many plants and animals may not like acid conditions, but certain types of bacteria and algae do. These small one celled life forms collectively known as microorganisms, can be very colorful. The colors are a result of the many different types of chemical processes, of which these life forms are capable. For example, Iron oxidizing bacteria are able to "remove" dissolved iron in the water and form minerals that look like rust. Many types of algae and bacteria use energy from sunlight to produce food, similar to larger plants, in a process called photosynthesis. These processes also create changes in the chemistry of the water. The many different types of bacteria and algae produce brilliant colors such as yellow, red, green, brown and even purple.

Tools and Things you will need

Baby food jars Eye dropper Gloves
Magnifying lens Rubber boots Litmus paper
Microscope (if possible)

What to do.

  1. With an eyedropper, collect in baby food jars the different red, yellow, orange, or brown flocculates (flakes found in the water, on the rocks or on the bottom sediments) in the water. Try filling some jars all the way to the top, and leave an air space in others.
  2. Test each jar with litmus paper to check its pH and write down the results.
  3. Put the jars on a windowsill. (Put some jars on a south facing windowsill to get direct sunlight. Put other jars on a north facing windowsill so they do not get sunlight). Certain algae will probably develop in the jars receiving the sunlight, and certain bacteria will develop in the jars that do not receive sunlight.
  4. Observe over two or more weeks and take the pH of the water regularly. Take notes of what you see, including the date and time of your observations.
What did you see?
  1. Observe a water sample every other day with a microscope (if possible). Did swimming protozoan hatch out?
  2. Did any of the iron bacteria colonize (coat) the jar?
  3. Did any of the iron bacteria form a reddish, oily looking film at the surface between the air and the water?
  4. Did any of the iron bacteria form a brown ring at the top of the water?
  5. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. Did you collect acid loving iron oxidizing bacteria or neutral iron bacteria? How can you tell the differences?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Microbial Ecology: http://www.uga.edu/srel/Fact_Sheets/microbial_ecology.htm
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What is in your creek water?

A creek can carry an amazing amount of chemicals. (One reason is that any activity on the land that surrounds the creek can usually affect the creek.) Some of these chemicals are so abundant that they mask "or hide" what is actually going on in the creek. For example, an abundant amount of minerals, metals, and sulfates may increase the pH of the creek, but when these substances drop out of the water, such as when the water flows over rocks or through wetlands, the chemistry of the creek changes and the pH may actually decrease.

Tools and Things you will need

Gloves Rubber boots Litmus paper
Access to a Refrigerator Access to a Stove Hydrogen peroxide
Small jars (1)
  1. Baby food jars, pill jars, etc.
What to do (Write down your results each time you check the pH).
  1. Fill a small jar or pill bottle to the top with water from your creek.
  2. Test the waters pH with litmus paper.
  3. Pour in one capful of peroxide.
  4. Let the red flocculates settle.
  5. Test the water again for its pH.
  6. Repeat the experiment with water placed in a refrigerator for one hour.
  7. Repeat the experiment with water left in a warm stove for one hour.
  8. Repeat the experiment with baking soda.
What did you see?
  1. What happened when you put hydrogen peroxide in the water? What about baking soda?
  2. What happened to the pH?
  3. Which reaction (refrigerator or warm stove) occurred faster?
  4. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. What kind of chemical reaction did you perform?
  2. Does heat or cold speed up a reaction?
  3. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Global Water Sampling Project: http://k12science.stevens-tech.edu/curriculum/waterproj/index.html
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How many colors does Iron (Fe) have?

Iron and the Oxidation Reduction Process

Iron is common element of many creeks, especially in the Appalachian region. Iron (Fe) has many different forms and many different colors. Each color tells a different story about the chemistry of the creek. Iron that is naturally found in the creek normally does not cause problems (it is part of the soil and the sediments), but metals can be increased by human activities to a point where they may become harmful to life in a creek. With iron, red is oxidized and black is reduced.

Tools and Things you will need

Gloves Magic marker Rubber boots
Jars with lids Shovel Litmus paper

What to do.

  1. Fill jars with red, yellow, or orange flocculates (flakes that occur in the water, on rocks or on the bottom sediments) and water from a creek. These can be found in many creek, but are especially common in creeks affected by acid mine drainage.
  2. Dig with a shovel in different places in and along the creek bed, until you find the color change from red to black.
  3. Add some black sediment to some of the jars (and make sure water is to the top to keep out oxygen).
  4. Label the jars with the dates of collection.
  5. Put covered jars on a north facing windowsill and observe them over several weeks.
What did you see?
  1. Make observations as to what happened to the colors over several weeks.
  2. At the end of the experiment, uncover the jars and smell them. "Write down what you smell."
  3. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. Which of these colors are from iron?
  2. Which iron was oxidized and which was reduced?
  3. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
How to collect and see Microbial Communities that fix Iron and Manganese in the Natural Environment
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What is the black stuff on the rocks?

The Manganese Cycle

Finding the minerals that coat the rocks in a creek is a very old profession. The prospectors of years ago used to scrape off the coatings from the rocks in a creek and send them to a laboratory for analysis. These prospectors were usually looking for gold and silver, but many times they found a wide variety of minerals and metals. The coatings and colors on the rocks can usually tell you about the most abundant minerals in a creek. Many times, the color will be caused by the darkest mineral in a creek. Manganese is almost always the darkest color mineral in the creek.

Tools and Things you will need

Rubber boots Gloves Magic marker
Hand lens Litmus paper Microscope (if possible)
String or small rope Jars with lids Glass slides
Other materials (1)
  1. These materials can be such things as cans, bottles, tile, styrofoam, paper, plastic bag etc.
What to do.
  1. This experiment requires that your creek have black coated cobblestones.
  2. Tie a string or small rope across your creek. Attach some of the materials listed above along the string, making sure they are dangling in the water. (You can also attach them to tree roots or wooden stakes.)
  3. Fill a large jar with creek water; Drop a microscope slide into the jar. Examine the slide at least once a week (should examine it more often). Write down what you see and any changes that occur over time.
  4. Write down what day you started the experiment.
  5. Examine the items dangling in the creek at least once a week. Write down what you see and any changes that occur.
  6. After about six weeks end the experiment. Write down the ending date, along with any final observations.
What did you see?
  1. What materials became coated with manganese?
  2. What did you see on the microscope slides?
  3. Why do you think manganese sticks to many things?
  4. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. Which materials do you think manganese oxidizing bacteria like best?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Manganese removal by chemical and microbial oxidation and the effect on Macroinvertebrate at a coal mine in Wayne County, West Virginia: http://energy.er.usgs.gov/products/papers/wvsmdtf/index.htm
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Is the groundwater acid also?

The surface water, mainly from rain, runs off over the ground and fills creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands. A small amount of the surface water does not run off, but instead seeps underground. This underground water is called "groundwater." Groundwater fills the spaces that are found in the soil and rocks and eventually flows downhill, just like creeks. The place that the groundwater is first observed as you dig down from the surface into the rocks and soil below is known as the water table. If you live in an area where your creek is acid, most likely the groundwater will also be acid.

Tools and Things you will need

Shovel Gloves
Rubber boots Hollow pipe (1)
  1. Short length of PVC, steel, or aluminum pipe.
What to do.
  1. Test your creek pH with litmus paper.
  2. Move away from the stream in a line (transect) and push a pipe down into the sediment, or dig a hole with a shovel.
  3. Collect the water and test the pH with litmus paper.
  4. Test another distance away from your creek.
What did you see?
  1. How far down did you have to dig to find groundwater as you moved away from the creek?
  2. Was the underground water the same chemistry as the creek?
  3. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. Would acids leak into the groundwater from the creek? Or from other underground sources?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
The Groundwater Foundation: http://www.groundwater.org/
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What is the white stuff in the creek?

Both natural processes and pollution can cause foam (white soapy looking stuff) on a creek. It is usually caused by a combination of several different pathways. A simple definition of foam is "A gas (usually oxygen) mixed in a liquid containing some type of impurity." The foam is produced when air bubbles created by water flowing over rocks and over objects, combine or mix with the impurity. Sometimes foams are natural. White colors can tell you when the element aluminum is present, or when sulfur producing bacteria are present. The foam may also be the result of human activities in or around the creek.

Tools and Things you will need

Gloves Rubber boots Microscope (if possible)
Litmus paper Eyedropper Shovel or stick
Jars with lids

What to do.

  1. How can you tell if an impurity is present in the environment?
  2. See if your creek has white foam.
  3. Collect the white flocculates (flakes that occur in the water, on rocks or on the bottom sediments) in a baby food jar with an eyedropper.
  4. Smell the mud under the white flocculate. What do you smell? A sulfur smell can indicate the presence of sulfur reducing bacteria.
What did you see?
  1. Look at the flocculates under a microscope.
  2. Observe the changes over time.
  3. What else did you see?
What do you conclude?
  1. What types of substances are in your creek? How can you find out what is in your creek?
  2. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Natural Chemical Cycles: http://wwwscience.murdoch.edu.au/teaching/m234/recycle01.htm
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How can acid mine drainage can be fixed?

Passive Treatment Methods

Acid mine drainage sometimes forms when certain minerals in the soil and rocks around mines are exposed to weathering processes during mining. These exposed minerals release their contents into creeks causing them to become acidic (lower the pH). Acid mine drainage effects many thousands of miles of creeks throughout the US and around the world. This does damage to the plants and other aquatic life that live in the creek, and makes to water useless or harmful for others who depend on it for recreation or drinking water. Today, many industries use very expensive chemicals and other methods to treat these contaminated waters. However, there are also less expensive methods known as "passive treatments" that can help clean some creeks.

Tools and Things you will need

Compost Litmus paper Limestone
Leaves Pine needles Bottles with caps (1)
Acid water from creek Cobbles or other natural objects Gloves & boots
  1. You will need enough bottles, and large enough, for each object you plan to test.
What to do.
  1. Find an acid stream by using litmus paper to measure the pH.
  2. Collect the water in bottles.
  3. Add one natural material to each bottle. Measure the initial pH.
  4. Label each bottle and write down its pH.
  5. Every few days for about two weeks, measure the pH to see what happens in each bottle. Write down the results.
What did you see?
  1. What materials decreased the pH of the water?
  2. What materials increased the pH of the water?
  3. What materials caused solids to form at the bottom of the bottles?
  4. What colors were the solids?
  5. Did one of your experiments change acidic water to neutral?
What do you conclude?
  1. What natural materials do you think can be used to treat acid mine drainage?
  2. Can you create a treatment system using these natural materials?
  3. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
Lessons in Passive Acid Mine Drainage Treatment: http://www.fetc.doe.gov/coolscience/teacher/lesson-plans/lesson10.html
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Using stinky bacteria to correct acid mine drainage

The Sulfate Reduction Process

As mentioned in the previous experiment, there are many expensive ways to treat acid mine drainage, but there are also less expensive more passive treatment methods. These passive treatments may involve the use of constructed or natural wetlands. In a wetland the combination of the plants, the holding capacity (how long the water will stay in the wetland), the soils, and the bacteria are responsible for the treatment of acid mine drainage. Many times these areas have a "rotten egg smell" which is caused when hydrogen sulfide gas is released through biological reactions that take place in the wetland. This is one way to tell if the wetland is doing the job of helping to treat the acid mine drainage.

Tools and Things you will need

Acid water from creek Collection boxes (1) 9 bottles with lids (2)
Litmus paper Wetland mud Shovel
Yeast Gloves & rubber boots
  1. Plastic collection boxes should be large enough for one small shovel full of mud.
  2. Bottles should be large enough for at least a tablespoon full of mud and a half of a tablespoon of yeast.
What to do.
  1. Collect acid mine drainage in 9 bottles.
  2. Collect mud that smells like rotten eggs from a wetland.
  3. Add mud to 6 of the bottles and yeast to 3 of the bottles.
  4. Measure the pH in the bottles over time; label each bottle and write down its pH. Watch for different colors to form.
  5. Smell each bottle and write down what you smell (rotten eggs, a yeast smell, or something else).
What did you see?
  1. What happened in the bottles having no yeast?
  2. What happened in the bottles having yeast?
  3. Which bottles really smelled like rotten eggs?
  4. Which bottles had bacterial activity?
  5. How did the bacteria affect the smell of the water?
  6. What color was associated with the strong smell?
  7. What else did you smell?
What do you conclude?
  1. What might affect the ability of the bacteria to treat the water?
  2. Why would people use compost in constructed wetlands?
  3. What are your conclusions? "Write down what you think."
The Science of Acid Mine Drainage and Passive Treatment:
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Tips for Designing your own Experiments

To use the "Scientific Method" you should design an experiment to test your "hypothesis." A hypothesis is a question, which has been reworded into a form that can be tested by an experiment. Your hypothesis should be based on the background information you gathered. Make a numbered, step-by-step list of what you will do to answer your question. This list is called an "experimental procedure". Your procedure should be detailed enough that someone else could do your experiment without needing to talk to you about it. This procedure should include:

Your experiments must be done many times to guarantee that what you observe is accurate, or to obtain an average result. This process of repeating the same experiment many times is called "repeated trials". Experiments can be more or less complex depending on how they are set up.

Conduct Experiment, Gather Data and Record Observations

As you do experiments, record all numerical measurements made. Data can be amounts of chemicals used, how long something is, the time something took, etc. Measurements are an important part of any experimental science project. Observations can be written descriptions of what you noticed during an experiment or problems encountered. You should be looking for differences between your control group and your experimental group(s).

Two things to be aware of while doing your experiment and making observations:

  1. If you did not observe any differences between the control and experimental groups then the variable you changed may not affect your experiment.
  2. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your experimental runs, there may be experimental errors affecting your results, or something affecting the results you may not have thought about.
If you suspect experimental errors, the first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is not working. If measurements do not seem to be a problem, check to make sure you are following the rest of your procedure carefully from one run to the next. If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a teacher review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss something obvious. Keep careful notes of everything you do and everything that happens. Observations are valuable when drawing conclusions and useful for locating experimental errors.

For more information on designing experiments, see the Experimental Science Projects: An intermediate level guide web site at: http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/cf/SciProjInter.html

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Please send a letter or e-mail and include your name, address, city, state, and zip code. Describe your experiences and tell us what you have discovered. The names, addresses, and e-mail addresses of the authors and contributors are located on the first page.

Resources for more information

AIMS Foundation, 1988. Water, precious water: A collection of elementary water activities for grades 2 through 6. PO Box 8120, Fresno, CA

Costen, J. and Hornberger M., 1995. Water Wizardry: A teacher’s guide to classroom activities and demonstrations about water pollution and remediation. US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA (To order contact: Michelle I. Hornberger, 345 Middlefield Rd., MS 465, Menlo Park, CA 94025)

US EPA, 1990. Acid Rain: A Students First Source Book. US Environmental Protection Agency (RD-682), 401 M Street, SW. Washington, DC 20460 (Also available on the Internet at: http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/student/student2.html)

Gartrell, J.E. et al. 1992. Earth – The Water Planet: National Science Teachers Association. (To order: US Geological Survey, MS 950, Reston, VA 20192)

McGee, E. 1995. Acid rain and our Nations Capitol: A guide to effects on buildings and monuments: US Geological Survey, Reston, VA (To order: US Geological Survey, MS 950, Reston, VA 20192)

Robbins, E.I. and Hayes, M. 1997. What’s red in the water? What’s black on the rocks? What’s the oil on the surface (Available on the Internet at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/Norriemicrobes.html)

Schrock, J.R. 1993. Surface mining of coal: The Kansas School Naturalist, Vol. 4, No. 1, Emporia State University, 1200 Commercial St., Emporia, KS 66801-5087

Sly, C. 1990. Water wisdom: A curriculum for grades 4 – 8: Publication of the Alameda County Office of Education. (To order: US Geological Survey Library, MS 950, Reston, VA 20192)

Zielinski E.J. 1995. Acid Mine Drainage in Pennsylvania, K-12 Awareness Activities: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, Bureau of Land and Water Conservation

For more information on other types of pollution that affects our waters visit EPA's non-point source pollution web site at: http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/

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Internet Links

Acid Mine Drainage Lessons: http://www.nwf.org/nwf/kids/cool/water2.htm
Acid Mine Drainage, the unseen enemy: http://www.valdosta.edu/~tmanning/hon399/wally.htm
American Rivers: http://www.amrivers.org/mines.html
Aquatic Environments: http://www.boquetriver.org/adoptaqecosys.html
Aquatic Macroinvertebrate ID: http://www.net1plus.com/users/tdriskell/macroinvertebrates.html
Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.com
A Community Water Quality Manual: http://www.vic.waterwatch.org.au/manual/
Bacteria in Groundwater: http://www.ce.vt.edu/enviro2/gwprimer/bacteria/bacteria.html
Beech Creek Watershed Resource Links: http://sites.netscape.net/bcwasite/watershedlinks.html
Biological Time-clock Experiments: http://www.cbt.virginia.edu/Olh/
Environmental Education: Internet Resources: http://www.wcupa.edu/library.fhg/recommnd/Environ.htm
Environmental Links: http://www.innovative-solutions.net/links.htm
Explore EE Links on the Internet: http://www.uwsp.edu/acad/wcee/links.htm
Hydrology and the Water Cycle: http://www.arch.cuhk.edu.hk/~patrick/slope/background_information/water_cycle.htm
Learn about Wetlands: http://athena.wednet.edu/curric/land/wetland/index.html
Manila Creek wetland treats acid mine drainage: http://manila_wetland.tripod.com/manila_amd_wetland.htm
Microorganisms in Acid Rock Drainage: http://www/environmine.com/ard/Microorganisms/rleof.htm
Mine Net: http://www.microserve.net/~doug/aciddra.html
NACD Links to Internet Resources: http://www.nacdnet.org/resources/links.htm#EviEd
National Watershed Focus: http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/KYW/Focus/Nov96.html
Native American uses for Cattails: http://www.nativetech.org/cattail/cattail.htm
Natural Resource Conservation Service: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/
NETL Cool Science: http://www.fetc.doe.gov/coolscience/index.html
Passive Treatment Technologies for Treating AMD: http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/landrec/passtrt/passtrt.htm
Recycling and Solid Waste Management Resources: http://wayne-health.org/wc_recycling_info.html
Restoration of a Stream Degraded by AMD: http://wwwpah2o.er.usgs.gov/projects/amd/restoration.html
Riparian and Wetland Restoration: http://www.denix.osd.mil/denix/Public/Library/Watershed/wqmsec6b.html
Science Made Simple: http://www.sciencemadesimple.com
The Allegheny Highlands: http://www.spies.com/~gus/forests/
The Environmental Education Network: http://www.envirolink.org/enviroed/content.html
The Young Scientist Introduction to Wetlands: http://www.wes.army.mil/el/wetlands/ysi.html
US EPA Region 3: Mountaintop Mining: http://www.epa.gov/region3/mtntop/
US EPA: Browse EPA Topics: http://www.epa.gov/epahome/topics.html
US Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/
US Geological Survey: Educational Resources: http://water.usgs.gov/education.html
USDA Backyard Conservation: http://www.fb-net.org/Backyard.htm
USDA: Watersheds and Wetlands Division: http://www.ftw.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.html
USGS: New Techniques to Treat AMD: http://www.usgs.gov/tech-transfer/factsheets/FS-212-96.html
Water Quality Modules: http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/waterq/wqacidmine.html
Watershed Education Links: http://www.adopt-a-watershed.org/aawlinks.htm
Watershed Education: http://stopnpp.com/educate/educate.htm
West Virginia Geology:
West Virginia Rivers Coalition: http://www.wvrivers.org/
West Virginia Save Our Streams Handbook: http://www.dep.state.wv.us/wr/OWR_Website/C_and_D/CandDDocs/wapdocs/WVSOS/WVSOS.pdf
West Virginia Wetlands: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/8003/wvwet.html
WV Division of Environmental Protection: http://www.dep.state.wv.us/
WV Division of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.state.wv.us/default.htm
WV K-12 Rural Net Project: http://www.wvu.edu/~ruralnet/monitor/monitor.html
WVU: Acid Mine Treatment: http://www.wvu.edu/~research/techbriefs/acidminetechbrief.html

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