Before making any decisions about the future of frac-sand mining in Winneshiek County, there is more research to be done.

That was the message sent to the Winneshiek Board of Supervisors Monday during a presentation by Bob Watson of rural Decorah.

Watson presented a number of documents to the Board regarding the current regulations, or lack thereof, for frac-sand mining.

"I'm here to ask you to consider putting a 24-month moratorium on any new conditional-use permits on frac-sand mining in the county, until all the things I have brought up are researched," said Watson.

haled is flushed out of their body is not correct when we are talking about these fine particles."

Feyereisn's letter also raised the issue of flocculant polyacrylamide, a chemical used in processing the sand.

"Though polyacrylamide itself is safe and is used in waste-treatment facilities and on farm-field application, its exposure to heat, sheer stress and sun exposure, as occurs in sand processing, can lead to its breakdown to acrylamide, which is both a neurotoxin and a probable carcinogen ... Acrylamide at a concentration of 0.5 parts per billion would make the aquifer's water undrinkable. Acrylamide at the weight of a penny (2.5gm) would make 1,000,000 gallons of water undrinkable.) It does not take much," said Feyereisn.



Regulatory problems

Watson also presented articles related to the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, which attribute the explosion to the lax enforcement of regulations regarding the industry.

"It is eerie that the same words and phrases describing regulations appear in my research and in the news reports about the West, Texas explosion," said Watson.

Watson cited a New York Times article which said the problems at the plant "illustrates the patchwork regulatory world the plant operated in and the ways in which it slipped through bureaucratic cracks at the federal, state and local levels ... Many safety decisions ... were left to local officials who often did not have the expertise to assess the dangers.



Citizen regulators

Watson said while it has been put forward (in previous meetings) that "mining is the most regulated industry in the U.S," Watson said it is not.

During his research, Watson said, "We have found many areas of mining that are not regulated by any agency or entity."

Watson said while the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), State Fire Marshal, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, state of Iowa and Environmental Protection Agencies touch on mining regulations, the problem lies in the fact, "There is no one, overall agency involved in making sure that all agencies are involved in a mine's oversight and regulation. In fact, MSHA Regional Director Troy VanWey said they are not even sure where all the mines and quarries may be. Some mines and quarries operate without permits or licenses."

Watson said there is no formal structure to make sure people are actually being regulated.

"Regulation is on a complaint basis. It means the pollution event has already happened. They are regulative reactively instead of proactively," he said.

"Part of the reason I'm asking for a moratorium is we don't know, as citizens what it is we're supposed to be regulating."



Response

Supervisor Dean Thompson said he knows of few industries, such as meat processing, that are regulated on a daily basis.

"Our comprehensive plan mentions health, safety and welfare of the county ... it's part of what empowers us to do things and it's the way counties operate. It has to do with judgment that may not be perfect, but at least it is the judgment of county leadership," said Thompson.

Watson said although he agrees, "This (frac-sand mining) is a new industry, and we don't know the ramifications. I hope you will take time to educate yourselves. We are relying on your judgment in this."

Board Chair John Logsdon said he appreciated Watson's input on the matter.

"We do lack the knowledge and the training on this. After the moratorium or whatever happens, would a two-man team or one knowledgeable person, who was cost-shared by the mining industry, county and DNR be a good idea? You are right. This is a self-regulated industry," said Logsdon.

"It's up to us to protect ourselves," added Watson.



The documents

Watson presented a number of news articles and documents to the Board, including a letter to the Board from Dr. Wayne Feyereisn of the Mayo Clinic, rebutting several of the claims regarding safety that have been made in recent meetings by representatives of the current mining industry in Winneshiek County.

"I have been asked to write you to clear up some issues about the public health risks of silica-sand mining that is being proposed in your county," said Feyereisn in his letter.

"Any dust that comes off a mine site presents a potential health risk ... The particles that are harmful are those below 4 microns in size and the finest dust may not be that visible to the naked eye. Anyone that [sic] says that the material inhaled is flushed out of their body is not correct when we are talking about these fine particles."

Feyereisn's letter also raised the issue of flocculant polyacrylamide, a chemical used in processing the sand.

"Though polyacrylamide itself is safe and is used in waste-treatment facilities and on farm-field application, its exposure to heat, sheer stress and sun exposure, as occurs in sand processing, can lead to its breakdown to acrylamide, which is both a neurotoxin and a probable carcinogen ... Acrylamide at a concentration of 0.5 parts per billion would make the aquifer's water undrinkable. Acrylamide at the weight of a penny (2.5gm) would make 1,000,000 gallons of water undrinkable.) It does not take much," said Feyereisn.



Regulatory problems

Watson also presented articles related to the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, which attribute the explosion to the lax enforcement of regulations regarding the industry.

"It is eerie that the same words and phrases describing regulations appear in my research and in the news reports about the West, Texas explosion," said Watson.

Watson cited a New York Times article which said the problems at the plant "illustrates the patchwork regulatory world the plant operated in and the ways in which it slipped through bureaucratic cracks at the federal, state and local levels ... Many safety decisions ... were left to local officials who often did not have the expertise to assess the dangers.



Citizen regulators

Watson said while it has been put forward (in previous meetings) that "mining is the most regulated industry in the U.S," Watson said it is not.

During his research, Watson said, "We have found many areas of mining that are not regulated by any agency or entity."

Watson said while the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), State Fire Marshal, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, state of Iowa and Environmental Protection Agencies touch on mining regulations, the problem lies in the fact, "There is no one, overall agency involved in making sure that all agencies are involved in a mine's oversight and regulation. In fact, MSHA Regional Director Troy VanWey said they are not even sure where all the mines and quarries may be. Some mines and quarries operate without permits or licenses."

Watson said there is no formal structure to make sure people are actually being regulated.

"Regulation is on a complaint basis. It means the pollution event has already happened. They are regulative reactively instead of proactively," he said.

"Part of the reason I'm asking for a moratorium is we don't know, as citizens what it is we're supposed to be regulating."



Response

Supervisor Dean Thompson said he knows of few industries, such as meat processing, that are regulated on a daily basis.

"Our comprehensive plan mentions health, safety and welfare of the county ... it's part of what empowers us to do things and it's the way counties operate. It has to do with judgment that may not be perfect, but at least it is the judgment of county leadership," said Thompson.

Watson said although he agrees, "This (frac-sand mining) is a new industry, and we don't know the ramifications. I hope you will take time to educate yourselves. We are relying on your judgment in this."

Board Chair John Logsdon said he appreciated Watson's input on the matter.

"We do lack the knowledge and the training on this. After the moratorium or whatever happens, would a two-man team or one knowledgeable person, who was cost-shared by the mining industry, county and DNR be a good idea? You are right. This is a self-regulated industry," said Logsdon.

"It's up to us to protect ourselves," added Watson.