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Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health

Tim Adkins's Letter To The Editor

By Timothy Adkins 10 June, 2016

Recent questions have been raised about the potential health and environmental impacts of industrial sand mining operations in Clayton County. The good news is that these concerns have been repeatedly studied and tested by a variety of study groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with the U.S. EPA and other government agencies. 

Studies clearly indicate that silica sand does not pose a hazard to the environment and thus from an environmental perspective, it is not a hazardous material, hazardous substance or hazardous waste.  Silica sand is considered hazardous under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, and the purpose of that standard is to ensure that the potential hazards associated with its use (sandblasting, etc.) are properly classified and communicated to employers and employees.


A current Clayton County Mine Reserve Study Committee has been charged with conducting an unbiased study on the potential impacts of industrial sand mining operations.  Interestingly, the committee’s focus is limited to potential health and environmental impacts, with no consideration being given to the economic impact of industrial sand mining operations in Clayton County.


To date, studies that have used approved monitoring equipment and have followed prescribed guidelines and protocol to develop proven scientific conclusions, have consistently reached the same or very similar conclusions. The potential negative health and environmental impacts of industrial sand mining operations are minimal, if not non-existent.


Conversely, studies and reports that are not based upon proven scientific conclusions tend to stir unfounded controversy and fear, and a fair share of those rumors and reports are also available.


In the April 28 Mine Reserve Study Committee meeting, invited speaker Patrick O’Shaughnessy, a professor at the University of Iowa, referenced an ambient air study conducted immediately adjacent to a surface industrial sand mine near New Auburn, WI.  In that study, multiple perimeter air monitors were set up adjacent to the mine property, and following months of monitoring activities, the study indicates that “there is no significant impact” on the ambient air associated with industrial sand mining, to which O’Shaughnessy agreed.


O’Shaughnessy also clarified that silicosis is proven to be the result of chronic (long-term and repeated) exposures to crystalline silica, and not the result of a single exposure.


Another study was recently conducted by The Institute for Wisconsin's Health, Inc. (IWH), a non-partisan, non-profit organization not affiliated with any industry, governmental unit, educational institution, or outside group.  From October 2014 - March 2016, the IWH worked with 14 health departments, the Ho-Chunk Nation, and the University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Research Center, to gather and analyze information on the potential public health impacts of industrial sand mining in western Wisconsin, an area with multiple surface industrial sand mines.

Their health impact assessment took into account a wide range of potential risks and benefits to the health of communities in western Wisconsin.  It combined health expertise, scientific data, and input from businesses, community members and other organizations in order to examine issues which included air and water quality, jobs, transportation, and other factors prioritized by community stakeholders.  Participating health departments in the IWH study included Barron, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Ho-Chunk Nation, Jackson, LaCrosse, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, St. Croix, Rusk, and Trempealeau Counties.  


The IWH study includes numerous monitoring datasets from industrial sand facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin and indicates that “these facilities are not sources of respirable crystalline silica at levels that pose a community-level health hazard.”


Other reports and test results, as well as a video of what Pattison Sand employees do each and every day, can be found on the PSC Home Page.

Last modified on Friday, 10 June 2016 08:45
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