Last night, Sustainable Dunn and GreenSense of UW-Stout collaborated to create a fascinating panel presentation/discussion about the expansion of sand mining in the region.
Guests included Dr. Ron Koshoshek, Emeritus Professor of Ethics from UW-Eau Claire and resident of Howard, Rich Budinger of WI Industrial Sand in Menomonie, Tom Woletz of the Wisconsin DNR, and our very own Dr. Crispin Pierce, Associate Professor in Environmental and Public Health at UW-Eau Claire, along with James Fay and Greg Nelson, his ENPH student research collaborators.
The fascinating, and consistently respectful presenters illustrated a broad range of issues including the process of sand mining, water quality (and quantity), air pollution and human disease, environmental regulations, local political strategies and insights, contributions of one mining company to the local economy and to the community, and some preliminary research results of airborne crystalline silica presented by the students on the panel.
Some interesting tidbits: WI (and MN) have the best deposits of this mineral deposit in the nation, and it's due to the unique structure and purity of the resource. There are currently about 2,500 sand mines in WI, with the mineral used for manufacture of glass, ceramics and used in construction, foundry, and water filtration industries. Recently accelerating extraction of natural gas located in shale deposits has dramatically increased its demand (and price). Look here for a special report on "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction, in the next several weeks.
Fugitive dust from these operations is a source of emissions of crystalline silica, a carcinogenic particulate air pollutant linked to the disease, silicosis, and increased incidence of tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Although mines undergo extensive initial permitting processes, monitoring of these pollutants is currently inadequate and environmental limits are not effective or well-enforced.
Communities have options to determine their fates: these depend on local politics, existing zoning ordinances, and a certainly requiring much effort. But in the end, we must consider an ethical question: how can we reconcile a regional economic benefit with the losses incurred on our neighbors? Those neighbors may be those whose property values, quality of life and/or health is impacted by sand mining operations. Those "neighbors" may include the natural ecosystems directly impacted by mining operations or by indirectly by water contamination. And our neighbors may also be located above the Marcellus shale, deeply affected by the activities of the oil and natural gas industry.