National science fair medal-winners brief trustees on possible uses for mine slag

R.D. Parker Collegiate Grade 9 students Samara Green and Anaya Permanand appeared before the School District of Mystery Lake trustees at their Oct. 8 meeting to give them an overview of the science fair project that won the duo a bronze medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton, New Brunswick last May when they were students at Ecole Riverside School.

Green and Permanand, who had been doing science fair projects together for five years before last school year, said their award-winning project focused on trying to find ways to repurpose mine slag.

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“We’ve both lived in Thompson our whole life and we’ve always known about Vale and their slag pile and how there was not really a purpose for it in a way so we thought, ‘Why not try to find a new purpose for slag?’” said Green.

“We initially thought that slag can be repurposed in an environmentally safe way that won’t harm people or the environment so we tried three different ways to repurpose it,” said Permanand.

The possible uses for slag that they explored were for filling potholes, as a soil substitute for agriculture and as the abrasive material for sandpaper.

“Already at the mine at the bottom of the slag pile little patches of grass grow on it,” said Permanand. ‘We thought, ‘Well, if grass can grow on it, other plants should be able to,’ so we tried to grow stuff in it.” 

“We thought since it’s like a sandy material that it would work perfectly [for sandpaper].” said Gren.

Various combinations of slag, gravel, tar and cold mix were used  for filling potholes the pair dug on Vale’s property, said Permanand.

“The ones with tar ended up working better,” she said. “They all ended up staying together in the end. There were no cracks or dents when people were driving over them.”

“We were going to do it this summer because we wanted to see if maybe it will harden differently because it was winter and it was cold and it hardned together better, but if it was summer if it would have the same effective hardness,” said Green.

Pure slag and slag mixed 50-50 and 25-75 with soil were all capable of growing plants, including sage, poppies, spinach and peas.

“All three ended up growing but after a while they’d end up dying,” said Green.

“We haven’t totally figured out why that is, if it was something going through the plants and then killing them or if it was just because it was winter and it was inside and there wasn’t any natural sunlight,” said Permanand.

“If we were to further the project we would want to try and test the slag to see if we would grow vegetables and if they would be safe to consume,” Green said.

The slag was glued to three different backings with three different types of glue. Card stock backing with Lepage glue worked best, said Permanand.

The sandpaper was tested on a rusty bolt, a piece of wood and a painted wall.

“With the bolt, the rust came right off if you scratched it so it could clean off the rust,” said Green. “With the wood, it was rough wood and it ended up smoothing the wood completely out.”

“On the wall, if you go for long enough and hard enough, it could take all the paint off and the primer right down to the drywall if you needed it to,” said Permanand.

Riverside teacher Mervat Yehia said the pair’s medal was the first for Thompson at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in at least 10 years.

“A bronze medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair is a big win for us from the north,” she said.

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