"A number of people around Wisconsin are concerned with frac sand particulate, some of the dust we see emitted during the frac sand mining transporting and processing," said Crispin Pierce, UW-Eau Claire Environmental Public Health Program Manager.
The particulate may be small…
"Actually about twenty to fifty times the size of a human hair. So we can't see them with our eyesight unless conditions are very, very dirty," Pierce said.
But frac sand is a big topic when it comes to life in western Wisconsin. That's why UW-Eau Claire students and professors are studying the air quality around frac sand sites. They're using two kinds of monitors. One that people can pick up at area health departments and another that is more expensive, but has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In this particular study, the more accessible air monitor was used.
"We're testing both in these circumstances to see which monitors are the more accurate for local people to use as well as the EPA monitors and whether or not we're above a safe standard," Pierce explained.
The study showed particulate levels between five to fifty micrograms per cubic meter around frac sand facilities. The EPA says levels at or below twelve micrograms per cubic meter is likely to protect the public from silica exposure risks.
"The data we've collected don't suggest an immediate threat to people who live around frac sand plants. They do suggest though that there are elevated levels of these fine particulate, so over time we may see the development of problems with breathing, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. These data give us some concerns, say that we need to do further investigations," Pierce said.
The first set of findings will be published in November's edition of the Journal for Environmental Health. That means it has been reviewed and accepted by other scientists. The second portion of the study will use the EPA approved monitors. Faculty and staff received a $65,000 donation to help them purchase those devices, which they began using for the first time late Thursday afternoon near Bloomer.