But the sand boom is creating worries about worker safety as well as local opposition over the clouds of airborne dust from heavy-duty trucks hauling the sand from mines to processing plants and rail depots. Pattison Sand Co. in Clayton, Iowa, has faced particular scrutiny.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the fine granules unleashed from sand mining respirable crystalline silica—or silica dust—and says it is linked to silicosis and lung cancer.
“There’s a tendency to say it’s just dust and people have always been exposed to dust,” said David Kriebel, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts. “Crystalline silica is an extremely hazardous substance. Every little piece of crystalline silica that reaches the lungs causes scarring.”
In Trempealeau County, Wis., where a number of new sand mines have opened, officials recently imposed a one-year ban on issuing new permits.
“We were looking at hundreds of permits being taken out, dozens of proposed mines that could become operational within a year,” said Sally Miller, a member of the county’s