River Coin

River Coin

Change for Rivers

There are currently 1,500 km of rivers in the UK that have unhealthy levels of metal content due to acid drainage from abandoned mines. There are only three sites in the UK that have implemented remedial measures, which means that there are thousands of rivers still suffering from this problem. This metal pollution has serious impacts on the local fish and insect populations, as well as the local flora and fauna which cannot thrive in this environment due to soils that become metal heavy with the river run-off.

The project Change for Rivers represents her journey to explore whether industrial waste that has been a source of pollution, can be repurposed to create something of value. Madelyn Santa has come to understand that responsibly cleaning up a waste system can be incredibly complex and energy intensive. In fact, the process required to clean a polluted river system may be so energy intensive and polluting that it not viable from economic and sustainability perspectives. She created a DIY system to explore how one might extract the metals that are polluting rivers and have made a material representation of the industrial waste by creating a coin. She hopes the coin can be a valuable way to remind people about the importance of cleaning up legacy sources of pollution.

The front of the coin resembles the lagoons. The lagoons are currently used for remediation to store the toxic mine water. The back of the coin is the setting where she recreated a polluted river during lockdown – in her bathtub. The zig zags around the coin are to resemble the electric current that she used to separate the metals from the water. The images are stylistically abstract, and not immediately recognisable, but their abstract nature prompts to question the coin’s materialisation. The coin is a materialisation of the land and symbolises what happens when economic activity is not balanced with environmental stewardship and are a call to action for remediation.


Madelyn Santa



Photo credits

Madelyn Santa, Akane Kawahara, Marine Renaudineau