University of Iowa research examines health effects of frac sand mining


A frac sand mining operation in Wisconsin in 2012. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)
A frac sand mining operation in Wisconsin from 2012. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | October 9, 2014

Crystalline silica – a compound used in frac sand mining – is a known carcinogen and has been for centuries according to a University of Iowa researcher.

Dr. Peter Thorne – head of the UI’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health – was in Decorah last week for a Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors meeting where he discussed health consequences associated with frac sand mining. Unlike hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) which drills deep into the earth’s surface to extract oil, frac sand mining is the practice of mining sand to be used for fracking.  The sand – which consists of crystalline silica – acts as a proppant  “to keep the fissures open and thereby aid extraction [of oil].”

Last fall the UI’s  Environmental Health Sciences Research Center was awarded a $124,868 grant to study how frac sand mining affects air quality and the associated public health risks. Thorne and his collegues have conducted their research in Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties in Iowa in addition to parts of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. The study will look at air quality and inhalation toxicology from silica particulates associated with the mining operation itself as well as transportation of the silica.

Earlier this year the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors passed what may be the nation’s strictest frac sand mining ordinance while Winnishiek County recently passed a moratorium on frac sand mining  effective through October 15, 2015.

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