Researchers find elevated particle count in air near frac sand sites | Local News

A group of UW-Eau Claire students presented air quality research in Chippewa Falls on Friday and encouraged the broader testing of air quality around the Chippewa Valley area.

The students, along with UW-Eau Claire professor Crispin Pierce, studied several sites around the Chippewa Valley in correlation with frac sand operations to test how the air quality compared to the base DNR air quality testing site in the region.

They presented some of their findings at the Chippewa Falls library to a crowd of around 25 people.

They were looking for a very fine particulate type that can be produced by sand mining operations, as well as by truck traffic, agriculture and combustion.

Pierce said the focus of the ongoing monitoring efforts is to flesh out information about air quality and how it’s affected by industry.

“We felt it was important to do it because there was some data gap,” Pierce said.

At a site located near a Bloomer sand mine, their monitoring showed slight elevation above the base levels established at the DNR monitor, but not approaching the top of standard levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s standard is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The Bloomer site averaged 7.7 micrograms per cubic meter in the 50 24-hour samples taken over two years, above the DNR site’s established average for the same time period, 4.33 micrograms per cubic meter.

The second tests monitored the area of two processing and train loading facilities near New Auburn and showed higher levels in a shorter sampling period, averaging 22.7 micrograms per cubic meter in 21 24-hour samples taken over 10½ months.

That’s higher than the standard, but not alarming.

The groups plan to continue studying with monitors placed on land elsewhere around the Chippewa Valley near mines and processing sites.

Orion Allgaier, one of the students presenting the data, said they will conduct controlled lab experiments with dirty air as well as helping the community conduct monitoring, including helping install and maintain monitors, which they said were necessary to continue to measure the air quality.

“It’s really doing the analysis and getting those monitors out,” Allgaier said.

The ultra-fine particles have been linked to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

Pierce said that while the area is not seeing the levels of air quality problems associated with China or India, there is no reason not to continue looking at it and seeing what can be done.

He noted that an important next step will be continued analysis of the collected particles to see if they can identify where they come from.

“We’re not seeing very, very dangerous levels … we’re seeing some elevated levels,” Pierce said. “Silica is a component of it and we’re concerned about it.”

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