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Remembering Bruce Leavitt

Innovator Who Revived an Ancient Technology Passes Away

Thursday December 12, 2013 (Revision of video posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013)

PITTSBURGH, PA — In the 1600s, Italian engineers discovered a way to compress air using only gravity and water. Later on, Spanish engineers working on ways to improve iron production, realized this technique could be used to drive their tools. In the 20th century, modern engineers realized the advantages of using the same device to drive tools used in underground mining while also supplying fresh air to miners.

However, the device called a "trompe," which had remained in use for hundreds of years, faded from use because of the advent of internal combustion power and the ready availability of electricity. Until now.

On June 18, 2013, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's Applied Sciences and Technology Transfer Program introduced a new project that uses a modern version of the ancient technology to clean up pollution from 20th-century mining. It is believed to be the first use of a trompe to eliminate mine water pollution.

Three years ago, Bruce Leavitt, a Pittsburgh-area environmental consultant, answered a request from OSMRE's Applied Sciences program for proposals to develop new passive methods of cleaning polluted water at old mine sites. Specifically, OSMRE was looking for ways to clean up remote sites that were not easily accessed, off the electric grid, and oftentimes difficult to maintain.

Bruce Leavitt

On Sunday, December 1, 2013, Bruce Leavitt lost his two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Before he passed away, Bruce and his partners successfully installed a second trompe at a treatment plant in Clearfield County, PA.

Leavitt’s family - and colleagues - consider his reintroduction of the trompe into modern water treatment plans one
of his many

Both trompe sites
are showing
promising results.

Leavitt focused on aeration of iron-laden water, which increases the effective removal of the iron. As a student in the 1970s, Leavitt visited the last known large-scale use of a trompe, at a Canadian mine site. Remembering that the device required no electricity, had no moving parts, and needed little maintenance, he proposed building a demonstration at an old mine site near the Pittsburgh airport.

Leavitt conducted several tours for members of the public, the coal industry and many watershed restoration groups, to describe how the trompe uses treated mine water to compress air; how the compressed air is used to oxygenate the mine water to accelerate iron oxidation; and how the technique provides excellent results at low construction and operational costs.

Leavitt developed the concept under an Applied Science grant from OSMRE. After designing the device, which uses inexpensive, common off-the-shelf materials, the Montour Run Watershed Association installed the trompe at the North Fork Passive Treatment System. The entire project is the product of a public-private partnership effort, including the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, BioMost, Inc., Quality Aggregates, Inc., and Stream Restoration, Inc.

Page Last Modified/Reviewed: 4/24/17

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