A grant received by the University of Iowa (U of I) will help implement the study of the health impacts of frac-sand mining in Winneshiek and Allamakee counties.

At Monday's meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Dean Thompson said the Board just received word from the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa they had received a grant from the National Institute of Health to study the effects of frac-sand mining on air quality. The Board endorsed the grant

Thompson said the amount of the grant is $124,868, which will help fund the study, estimated to cost more than $180,000. The balance will be paid by the University of Iowa.

Thompson said there will be no county money funding the study, which will cover the monitoring of air quality in addition to community outreach and education regarding the results.

In applying for the grant, Peter Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at U of I, detailed the 18-month moratoria enacted by both counties.

"Concerned citizens have protested the expansion of mining operations there (in Winneshiek and Allamakee counties) ... These citizen groups have largely operated independently of each other, yet have amassed considerable experience and information on the issue of frac-sand mining within their respective communities," stated Thorne in his grant application.

He added "a review of the literature reveals few studies exist which examine the potential health impacts of silica-sand mining. Concerns include the sand's respirability (ability to be taken in by breathing), water contamination via washing processes and significantly increased road traffic and particulate matter production. In addition, many communities have concerns for natural resource conservation and in turn, negative effects on their tourist economy."

The study proposes to conduct an impact assessment of active large-scale silica-sand mining operations on particulate matter and crystalline silica exposures in Wisconsin, and using air-monitoring equipment, establish the impact of such mines on respirable particulate-matter levels.

"Subsequently, this research will be translated to the communities in need via two centrally held workshops to which residents and policymakers of active and potential mining communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa will be invited. The workshops will also provide an opportunity for community members to network and assess potential shared needs and resources."

Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten said the Board will invite one of the principals from the U of I study to address the Board in the near future. The workshops will likely take place following the conclusion of the study, scheduled for March 31, 2014.