DNR will not change air pollutant regulations for sand mines - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

DNR will not change air pollutant regulations for sand mines

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - The DNR responds to a petition, looking for more regulations regarding sand mines. A local group filed a petition with the DNR to regulate the emission of crystalline silica from sand mines, and to define it as a hazardous air contaminant. The DNR said no.

"No one foresaw a year ago the sand boom, so it's kind of a shock," Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-68th Assembly District) says.

A petition signed by ten people from Western Wisconsin had asked the DNR to come up with more regulations regarding crystalline silica. That pollutant can come from sand mines and processing plants. The DNR denied that petition.

"We do have existing regulations for particulate matter. Crystalline silica is a particle-based pollutant. Those existing regulations should cover crystalline silica as a pollutant, says Jeff Johnson, a DNR Environmental Engineering Supervisor.

The DNR says there doesn't need to be any more regulations just because sand mines are popping up across Western Wisconsin.

"Silica is naturally occurring compound, and it's basically everywhere, whether it's a farmer tilling up his field, industry sand blasting, iron products, anything like that," says Johnson.

Testing for crystalline silica can also be a problem.

 "Certainly the science is there that we could at least find the crystalline silica in the air, the difficulty with that, in addition to the methodology is the culpability, meaning who is responsible for the presence of that silica in the air. Sand is sand. You could say it came from the road, it came from the farm, it came from the sand mine or other naturally occurring events," Johnson says.

Last week, Senator Vinehout introduced two bills to deal with the growth of the industry:  one would require a 30-day notice of a public hearing before local governments act on a proposed mine. Vinehout says the other bill would strengthen zoning laws. We asked two other lawmakers whether they feel the state should be involved in regulation.

"I know it's contentious, but it's not going to be any less contentious if the state of Wisconsin steps in to a local community to tell them that you can have sand mines here, but you can't have sand mines there, this neighbor could work out a deal for x millions of dollars, and this one's not allowing it, and so that's going to occur whether or not the state of Wisconsin regulates where sand mines can be, where they can't be, and that's better left up to the towns and the local governments,' Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-68th Assembly District) says.

"It's the local governments that release the permits and all that, at that level people can have some real impact in their neighborhoods, but they have to be willing to step up and go to meetings and get involved and do that, but there is the opportunity. We just want to make sure that people have had even more opportunity and that there aren't surprises for folks, and that some of the existing zoning laws are being followed," says Rep. Chris Danou (D-91st Assembly District).

We reached out to one of the petitioners Tuesday.  Ken Schmitt says he doesn't feel current DNR policies address the issue of crystalline silica, and feels the DNR did not take the petition seriously.  Schmitt says the group is still going over the DNR's response, and isn't sure whether or not they'll take further action.

For the DNR's full response, click on the related link to the right. 

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