In US industrial sand production increases dramatically, yet industry says worker protection too costly, The Pumphandle's Elizabeth Grossman writes:
Since the White House Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began reviewing the Labor Department’s proposed rule to reduce by one-half the permissible workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica more than two year ago, the US has seen a dramatic increase in industrial sand mining, a major route of workers’ exposure to silica dust. As Celeste Monforton reported for The Pump Handle on March 20th, OIRA’s review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) draft proposed rule crystalline silica exposure has now been going on for more than 800 days. During this time – since 2010 – the amount of industrial sand production in the US has increased more than 50 percent. Industrial sand production is but one of the ways workers can be exposed to the silica dust that can put them at increased risk of developing lung cancer and other lung diseases, including silicosis. Exposures often occur in stonecutting, sandblasting and foundry work, in construction and – spurred by recent growth in natural gas extraction – among workers producing, transporting and using industrial sand in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations.
According to the most recent US Geological Survey (USGS) estimates, US industrial sand production jumped an estimated 37% between 2010 and 2011 and another 14% between 2011 and 2012, with approximately 57% of this sand destined in 2011 for US hydraulic fracturing operations. USGS estimates that in 2011, sales of frac sand increased by 77% compared to those in 2010. USGS calls the production and sale of hydraulic fracturing sand the past several years’ “most important driving force in the industrial sand and gravel industry.” USGS put the value of industrial sand production in 2012 at $2.2 billion. . . .
. . .The bottom line . . . appears to be that while US industrial sand production has skyrocketed – increasing about 50% in the past two years – the businesses that produce this material and that use the most of it maintain that it is too costly to improve protection for workers who may be exposed to respirable silica dust, a known lung carcinogen. At the same time there appears to be little progress in expanding information available to workers or the public on where industrial sand is being used in fracking operations, exactly how much of this sand is being produced and where – and how many workers this may put at risk of breathing this dangerous dust.
That's reassuring. Oregon's Northwest Labor Press takes a long, critical look at the process in Obama Administration quietly smothers rule to protect workers.
To bring this home to Minnesota, consider Friday's article in the Winona Daily News, Committee discusses air quality:
The city of Winona’s Citizens Environmental Quality Committee on Thursday began discussing air-quality issues surrounding local frac sand businesses.
The city’s planning commission and some city council members have asked the committee to look into whether the city has the resources and expertise to monitor the levels of silica sand in ambient air at processing plants within the city.
Assistant city planner Carlos Espinosa said the city should wait for recommendations from state agencies and the Minnesota Legislature before writing any air quality monitoring standards into city code.
Several bills regarding the silica sand industry are being considered by state lawmakers, and the state is in the process of setting a standard for airborne crystalline silica by the end of 2013. There’s currently no state or federal standard for a safe amount of airborne silica sand. . . .
Another indication of the sort of contentiousness sand mining is creating in Southeastern Minnesota? The Spring Grove Herald's government writer Craig Moorhead reports in New frac sand committee agrees on little in first meeting:
The most telling clue as to just how divisive the issue of frac sand mining has become in southeastern Minnesota is what happened when Houston County's Frac Sand Study Committee began its April 12 meeting. It took over 20 minutes just to approve the agenda. . . .
Read the whole thing. Some relief might be in sight. At the Pioneer Press, Brian Bakst reports in Minnesota House backs water fees to fund environmental protection efforts:
The bill includes almost $3 million that would go toward creating a state board to establish standards for silica sand mining, which is a booming industry in southeastern Minnesota. Lawmakers have been grappling with how to regulate the budding industry, which has the potential to be an economic generator as prospectors search for new deposits of a product oil companies use later in hydraulic fracturing. Some communities worry that the rush has outpaced environmental concerns created when the sand is extracted and transported.
Photo: Silica sand dust in Wisconsin. Photo by Jim Tittle.
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