A new documentary chronicles the rebirth of a Western Pennsylvania river – The A


Phillips: Right, so these heavy metals like iron and manganese lower the pH, making the water acidic, and kill all the bugs at the bottom of the food chain. The solution that you talk about in your film was a multimillion-dollar project. Tell us about that.

Kalina: Yeah, I mean, it’s really expensive, this is not a simple solution. It looks like an enormous aboveground pool, where you’re basically mixing into that water lime and other kinds of neutralizing elements to get that water back to a healthy level so you can discharge it once again into the streams.

Phillips: Just to be clear, this cleanup process has to happen in perpetuity. Right? It’s forever.

Yeah, I think I would hope that at some point we figure out some way to kind of move beyond that. But at this point, I don’t see that on the horizon.

Phillips: Right, big commitment, big money. So, you’ve done a lot of films for PBS on global climate change, what made you turn to such a local story?

Kalina: There’s just a real sadness to the fact that people turn their back on these rivers that are actually just these gorgeous places that should be full of life. And so when I found this story, I thought, here’s a chance to talk about a story where there’s actually a hopeful outcome. And not just because it’s important in the case of these rivers or this river in particular, but also because I think we really, we need to focus on that more generally in our own storytelling, the stories we tell ourselves because it’s easy to get really, really desperate about climate and environment-related issues. But we have to remind ourselves that when we decide something is worth tackling and fixing, like we have incredible capacity to do that.

Phillips: Another question I have for you is, coal mining has been on a rapid decline over the past decades. But right now, we’re seeing a new full-steam-ahead push for renewables like solar, wind, electric cars. Do you think in the future we’ll be dealing with environmental destruction from any of these sources that we haven’t thought about, or at least, we’re not talking about?

Kalina: That’s a great question, and it’s one that I think more and more about. And I think … there’s no doubt that we have to move very quickly to sources of energy that are, that do not produce greenhouse gases. However, electric cars require batteries. The lithium that needs to go into those batteries and the other metals are incredibly toxic as well. And even just finding those metals in order to bring those technologies to scale requires a massive amount of extraction or disruption of other delicate ecosystems.

[We should] really use this as maybe a cautionary tale to say as we look to dig ourselves out of this very deep hole we’re in and do it very quickly, we can’t just ignore the fact that all of these forms of power and electricity take resources, and those resources will require a certain amount of foresight in terms of how we deal with them, how we extract them, how we recycle them or whatever we do, or else we will be looking at a whole other set of problems. One hundred years from now or sooner.

Phillips: Right, exactly. Thanks for talking with us, Ben.

Kalina: Sure, happy to. Thanks for having me.


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