Air Quality Concerns from Frack Sand to be Studied by UI Team

Nov 28, 2013

A sand pile at the Pattison Sand Company mine in eastern Iowa's Clayton County. It's the only site in Iowa actively mining for sand to be used in hydraulic fracturing.
Credit Sarah McCammon / Iowa Public Radio

Researchers at the University of Iowa have received a $125,000 federal grant to study the effects of frack sand mining on air quality.

The rise in hydraulic fracturing in the US and Canada has created demand for silica sand, used in the fracking process. There’s currently just one major frack sand mine in Iowa’s Clayton County. But parts of northeast Iowa are rich in these sand deposits.

David Osterberg is an environmental health professor at UI. He says the research will largely focus on sites in Wisconsin over the next several months, where there's been "gigantic explosion" in mining for frack sand.

"That sort of thing is happening – could be happening in Minnesota and Iowa as well," he says.

The study also will look at transfer points where sand is moved between trucks and trains – including some sites in Iowa.

Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties have approved temporary bans on new frack sand mines to allow time for the environmental health effects to be studied.

Osterberg says the goal of the study is to determine the level of exposure to silica dust from sand mining. Inhaled dust can cause cancer and a lung disease called silicosis.