Thursday, February 11, 2016

Health Impact Assessment

The Institute for Wisconsin's Health, Inc. (IWHI), a non-profit, recently released a "Health Impact Assessment of Industrial Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin." The report was produced in collaboration with 15 local and tribal health departments and summarizes existing research addressing air quality, water resources, land reclamation, and quality of life.

It was quickly noted by local media that the report downplays health concerns related to silica dust, one of the more contentious environmental health issues raised by frac sand mining. The report concludes that as currently regulated it is unlikely that people living near frac sand operations will be exposed to respirable crystalline silica.

Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), an organization that has advocated for stricter regulations of frac sand mining, criticized the IWHI report for relying on industry-sponsored studies that focus primarily on larger PM10 particles. Findings from a study being conducted by Dr. Crispin Pierce, director of UW-Eau Claire's environmental public health program, were not addressed in the IWHI report. Pierce's study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, focuses on smaller PM2.5 particles. His study has found elevated levels of PM2.5 particles near frac sand operations. MEA also criticized the IWHI report for ignoring the potentially higher risk presented in localized settings where multiple frac sand operations are clustered.

While the issue of air quality has received significant attention, the IWHI report also suggests that frac sand mining is likely to affect people's quality of life, disrupting their sense of place and cultural heritage. The report is rather vague in its findings, however.

The impact of frac sand mining on quality of life and sense of place is a question addressed in my own research, which, coincidentally, I discuss in an article that will be published in the next few weeks entitled "Frac Sand Mining and the Disruption of Place, Landscape, and Community in Wisconsin," Human Organization, 75(1). I will be sure to post that article when it finally appears in print.