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Environmentalists challenge DNR sand mine pollution findings

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources draft report wrongly concludes that sand mining operations don’t produce fine dust particles and shouldn’t impact human health, an environmental advocacy group contends.

The DNR released a potential update to its 2012 sand mining analysis for public comment this past week. The analysis tracks the latest scientific and socioeconomic information about sand mining in Wisconsin. The agency uses the analysis to inform policy discussions and decisions.

Sand mining has taken off in western Wisconsin since 2008, as fracking, a process to free petroleum and natural gas by cracking rock with injections of water, sand and chemicals, has taken hold. The region has high-quality silica sand that works well in the process; according to the report, 92 sand mines are currently active in the area. The boom has generated fears of air and water pollution.

A section of the report focuses on air pollution, stating that sand mines don’t appear to be producing the small pollutant particles that can lodge deep in human lungs and, according to some studies, cause health problems. Air quality monitors in western Wisconsin haven’t detected elevated levels of such tiny particles and the levels of larger particles are well below federal air quality standards, according to the report.

“As a result of existing regulations and the permitting and compliance activities … health related impacts from industrial sand facilities are not likely to be an issue,” the analysis states.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, though, insists that the DNR needs to take a tougher look at sand mining and solicit more data and input from experts and the public.

The analysis relies too heavily on voluntary air monitoring and industry-funded studies, the group said, and minimizes a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study that found sand mines may be causing or contributing to unsafe air pollution. The DNR has no evidence showing that sand mines don’t produce the smaller, more dangerous particles, the group said.

MEA attorney Sarah Geers pointed to a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent to the DNR in August that a broad statement that mining processes don’t emit fine particles is accurate or appropriate.

“Robust public comment will improve the final (analysis), if the DNR will hear the public’s concerns, accept more air quality studies and address the legal and environmental concerns with fine particulate matter associated with frac sand mining,” the group said in a news release.

The DNR plans to hold a public hearing on the draft analysis July 24 in Eau Claire. The agency will take comments for at least 45 days before issuing the final version. DNR spokesman James Dick declined to comment on MEA’s complaints, saying the agency typically doesn’t respond to public comments as they come in.

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