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Sand forum features environmental experts

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is not occurring in Minnesota, but one substance that's vital to the procedure is located in the state.

"Nationally, silica sand isn't found in very many places," Heather Arends, industrial mineral supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, explained at a local discussion this week. "The source of silica sand is very isolated to Minnesota, Wisconsin."

Some silica sand can also be found in Iowa and Illinois.

There are eight silica mines operating for frac sand within Minnesota, Arends said. One in Le Sueur County has been functioning for more than 30 years, and several more mining companies throughout the state are looking to start up.

Since demand for the sand is growing, area communities are continually looking to learn more about silica sand mining operations and their impacts -- positive or negative. To hear from some experts on various related topics, Red Wing 2020, the mayor's advisory group, centered its quarterly forum on silica sand.

The meeting, held Thursday night at the Sheldon Theatre, featured representatives from the DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Department of Health and Environmental Quality Board.

Presenters provided much of the same information that has been heard by local community members at forums in the past. A lot of it covered topics that have had area citizens worried about their health and safety, such as air quality, water quality and other effects on the environment.

Wendy Turri, municipal wastewater manager for the MPCA, said the agency has learned a lot since Goodhue County held a silica sand forum about a year ago. The MPCA is working to figure out what method it should use for monitoring silica sand.

Still, with no standard by which to measure air quality around a silica sand mine, it can't yet be determined how much of a health risk the operations pose to the communities they're in, she added.

"There just isn't a lot of information so we don't know is it a problem or not."