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Cleaning up Acid Mine Drainage in Pennsylvania Rivers

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Energy and the Environment

This was the first I’d even heard of a Duck Drop Race, so I was intrigued and wanted to participate. It was a chance to bring together community youth, families, the Chamber of Commerce who started the event, and the community watershed organization with which I work: the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance (SCRA).

As an Office of Surface Mining VISTA working in Northeast Central Pennsylvania and in partnership with the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, I help build the capacity of SCRA to accomplish its mission which is to restore Shamokin Creek to a more natural state.

The Creek is heavily polluted with Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) that results from pre-regulatory mining. The creek bed is coated with iron oxide deposits, inhibiting the existence of aquatic life and turning most of the greater than 30 miles of stream a rusty orange color. I help reach out to the public and educate students and adults about AMD and other issues – like illegal dumping – that threaten our watershed.

For the Railroad Motor Car and Duck Drop Race, I partnered with the Brush Valley Chamber of Commerce, the main organizer of the event, to tie-dye t-shirts using the same iron oxide that pollutes our streams. Not only does this demonstrate that we can use this pollutant as a resource, but in speaking with attending families we can educate youth about what AMD actually is.

I also handed out brochures explaining how we used the iron oxide to tie-dye the t-shirts. In order to purchase shirts and print them with an image of rubber ducks, I asked for donations from local businesses.

On the day of the event I helped to sell the t-shirts before the Duck Drop Race began and we had two volunteers stationed along the creek to make sure all the rubber ducks made it to the finish line, where four more SCRA volunteers held up a net to catch the ducks.

After the 500 little rubber ducks were dropped from a bridge into the creek, they set off on their ½ mile race through downtown Shamokin in the orange-tinted water. The first three ducks to finish won prize baskets.

Especially indicative of why the SCRA and I participate in this kind of community event is the following sentiment from an area youth, Nigel Lucas, whose duck went on to win the race. "It was a really neat race, and it was fun to help out. But it really was sad to see all that stuff in the creek. There were plastic bottles, an old basketball. I even saw a bicycle in there. Who would do that?" This year was the second that this event was held, and the SCRA and the Brush Valley Chamber of Commerce are committed to making it an annual one to involve local families and hopefully get people more interested in cleaning up the Shamokin Creek.

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