Communities At Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest

Boston Action Research (a project of Civil Society Institute) / by Emily Chapman,  et al.

[Los Angeles Times] …Mining companies get the sand by blasting chunks off the region’s rolling hillsides and washing away the other soil and rock. Nearly every step of the process poses problems for surrounding communities, the authors wrote.

“The rapid expansion in the United States of oil and shale gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, has a hidden side filled with problems: the mining of the special sand that is essential to fracking a drilled well,” [co-author Grant] Smith said.

Washing the sand to separate it from debris uses prodigious amounts of water, often more than the municipal water systems in the counties where mines are located, the report found.

Mining operators use a chemical, polyacrylamide, to get the debris to clump and separate from the sand. The chemical can break down into acrylamide, a carcinogen, that can enter water sources from wastewater ponds at mine sites, the report said. It remains unclear whether states where sand mining occurs monitor for the formation of acrylamide and its possible migration to water sources.

Silica dust released from blasting and picked up by the wind from piles of washed sand could pose health risks to nearby residents, the report said. Fine airborne particles can irritate people’s lungs and heighten the risk of respiratory ailments. Until now, scientists and regulators have focused on the threat of silica dust at workplaces such as mines and fracking sites. Little research has been done into the presence of silica dust in communities near mines.

Nearly 58,000 people live within half a mile of sand mines and related facilities, Environmental Working Group found…


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