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Rough Science 6 Colorado: Safety Video Diaries: Ellen McCallie

Updated Thursday 10th November 2005

Exclusive video extra in which Ellen McCallie talks about the challenge for the Safety programme, from the sixth BBC/OU TV series Rough Science, based in Colorado

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This is my absolute favourite kind of challenge. It’s absolutely physically exhausting running up those small mountains, dragging rocks, beating these limestone, that’s what I love to do, and also it’s solving a real problem. These mines have been around here for 50 to 100 years. Yes, it’s a natural process of the metals coming out and the water becoming acidic but we humans have really accelerated the process. So, you know, on day one when we were told we were going to clean up mine water, yeah, you have some ideas but can you really do it in three days? I mean can you use a low tech solution to solve a pretty major problem?

Hermione said we were going to have to bash limestone. At least we had good hammers. So yeah, we got the manure, and by day two I was seriously worried. To get these anaerobic bacteria to work, basically all the oxygen has to be gone and to get the bacteria that like oxygen to really start moving it needs to be hot and humid. Well the humid we could handle; just pour a lot of water in there. But the hot, it was freezing cold. Freezing cold and wet, and I thought alright, Hermione will lower the pH but there’s no way I’m going to get these anaerobic bacteria to kick in, bind all these metals and take them out of solution. We’re sunk. And it has nothing to do with the science, it has to do with the weather but, as we all know, we can’t control the weather.

The amazing thing though is by day three after we had blanketed it all up, wrapped it up, we were freezing because it kept raining and it kept getting colder but by day three it smelled. It smelled like it was supposed to. It had that sulphury odour so the bacteria had kicked in. They were binding up the metals, it was dropping out of solution, the pH was going up. We ran it over Hermione’s rocks. Man, you can’t get any better than that. It’s such a high.



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