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Rehab work should keep Brady passive treatment system functional for 20-25 years

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Wil Taylor, center manager at the Jennings Environmental Education Center, points to a one room schoolhouse located near the Jennings Passive Treatment System on Oct. 7, 2013 in Butler, PA.Taylor explained that drainage from the mine used to come all the way down to the school house walls.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Margaret Dunn from the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition speaks at a celebration and rededication for the Jennings Passive Treatment System on Oct. 7, 2013.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Water makes its way from the vertical flow pond to the second, oxidation stage of processing at the Jennings Passive Treatment System on Oct. 7, 2013 in Butler, PA.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Pipes carrying acid mine drainage stem out into the vertical flow pond as part of the Jennings Passive Treatment System in Butler, PA on Oct. 7, 2013. After the drainage disperses through the pond, it flows down through a mixture of spent mushroom compost and limestone wood chips which helps neutralize the acids.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Tim Danehy, an employee of BioMost, Inc and who helped structure the Jennings Passive Treatment System, explains the filtering system of the Aqua Fix machine on Oct. 7, 2013 in Butler, PA.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Three pipes carrying acid mine drainage stem out into the vertical flow pond as part of the Jennings Passive Treatment System in Butler, PA on Oct. 7, 2013. The pipes are meant to evenly disperse the drainage so that it effectively flows down through a mixture of spent mushroom compost and limestone wood chips which helps neutralize the acids.

Rehabilitation work should keep a system that uses nature to clean acid mine drainage functional for 20 to 25 years, said Tim Danehy of the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition.

“It's the most economically effective way to treat mine drainage,” he said.

The Jennings Passive Treatment System in Brady cost $125,000 to build in 1997, said Eric Best, state environmental education specialist, and it outlasted its expected 10-year design life, ceasing operation in 2012.

It was revamped this year at a cost of $90,000, funded by the coalition through state and federal grants and private funds.

Passive treatment systems take advantage of naturally occurring chemical and biological processes to treat acid mine drainage and do not require constant chemical input or monitoring.

The passive system consists of a vertical flow pond, where gravity pulls acid mine drainage through a mixture of crushed limestone and mushroom compost, Best said. This raises the pH level and neutralizes the acid in the mine water.

The drainage is then exposed to oxygen and a chemical reaction forces metals from the solution, which is captured in a wetland below the pond.

The vertical flow pond was drained, and the old crushed limestone and mushroom compost was dug out and replaced, said Miranda Crotsley, Jennings program coordinator.

Also, the pipes that bring the mine water into the treatment pond were replaced and reconfigured in the rehabilitation process.

Danehy said the passive treatment system has restored Big Run Stream, which was polluted for many years. Jennings has become a state park used to conduct research and develop passive mine treatment systems.

Seals on an inactive mine failed in the 1980s, sending acid drainage into Big Run, a tributary to Slippery Rock Creek, creating a zone with little or no vegetation.

The Jennings system requires relatively little maintenance, only quarterly checks, Danehy said.

There are 20 passive treatment systems on the Slippery Rock Creek watershed, Crotsley said.

“It's a widespread attempt at treating (mine drainage),” he said. “It's probably our largest pollution problem, and this system is making quite a difference on the Slippery Rock Creek watershed.”

The Jennings Environmental Education Center, in partnership with the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition and Stream Restoration Inc., celebrated the rehabilitation of the system with an open house and tour of the system on Monday.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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