A professor and group of student researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire claim they found elevated particulate levels associated with frac-sand mining. Although their studies didn’t conclude the levels are dangerous, professor Crispin Pierce has irresponsibly asserted that the levels will decrease life expectancy, leading some Wisconsinites to believe sand mining operations are a danger to the public.
Pierce conducted studies in three locations. The first was near a Bloomer, Wisconsin sand mine, where he found particulate levels well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.
The other locations were near transportation facilities. This is important to note, because elevated particulate levels are well documented on roadways and railroads for what should be obvious reasons. Elevated particulate matter in the air can be caused by combustion, agricultural transport, railroad dust, or a slew of other things. If you’re the owner of a white or light-colored car and it was delivered to your dealer via rail, you probably have experience with transportation-related microparticles, as you’ll observe the perplexing phenomena when you find tiny rust flecks all over the hood or side of your car, burrowed into the paint. This is caused by iron microparticles that are kicked up from the rails.
Based on Pierce’s report, many Wisconsinites will likely believe Pierce’s false claims. Fear-mongering has always been a preferred strategy of environmental fanatics, and this is no different.
Sadly, the broader public is not knowledgeable about the fracking process. Even worse, it is rather difficult to explain to a frightened community the intricacies of particulate concentration levels.
It is true that regular and sustained breathing of particulate matter at certain levels of concentration is dangerous. However, like always, it’s the amount inhaled that becomes a problem. I’ll say it again, because it’s something that we often miss when it comes to toxicology and pollution: The amount of exposure changes the level of danger. A man who drives a frac-sand truck for a living, who regularly unloads the material and is frequently exposed to a large amount of suspended particles as they pour it into a hopper, should probably err on the side of caution and wear a respirator. Even so, Pierce admitted that the levels of particulates found were not alarming, even as he made his other claims about life expectancy.
As The Heartland Institute pointed out more than three years ago, Pierce has a storied history of going after sand mining operations and their associated air quality. In the case from 2015, for example, he used inaccurate sampling methods and equipment.
In the 2015 study, Pierce and his student researchers found low concentrations of particulates and engaged in shoddy science to detect those levels. The study used less-than-accurate equipment and reads more like a hastily completed class report than a fully funded research project. The “researchers” didn’t even bother to take baseline measurements of upwind particulate levels.
Environmental extremists have long targeted frac-sand mining because frac sand is central to the fracking process, which they love to vilify. Therefore, activists portray frac-sand mining as inherently harmful, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.
As for the more recent study, Pierce should be relieved that the results came up as “not alarming,” rather than beating war drums to shut down a thriving industry that employs thousands of Wisconsinites and keeps energy prices affordable.