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Minnesota to study frac sand dust that flies off trucks

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State pollution officials plan to launch a test to learn more about the dust that blows off trucks that haul frac sand in southeast Minnesota, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

At issue are the harmful silica particles in the dust, which can cause lung disease and cancer. Activists in both Minnesota and Wisconsin have called on the states to examine the broader health effects of mining and transporting frac sand.

To that end, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and city of Winona officials plan to set up a limited test – two monitors that can detect the dangerous dust along a truck route in Winona, at a cost of around $100,000, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. They aim to have the monitors in place by Jan. 1.

“We think it’s important for us to engage in a pilot study with the City of Winona to better understand the air quality implications of those trucking routes and the movement of the silica sand,” MPCA Manager of Air Assessment Frank Kohlasch told WPR News.

Debate has intensified in the last few years about the growing silica sand mining industry's effects on the environment and human health. The sand is a key ingredient in the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which relies on high-powered water-and-sand blasting to free oil and natural gas from rock deep below the surface. That process has led to new drilling developments and created new energy riches in North Dakota.

Industry proponents say frac sand mining is safe and creates jobs – and allows access to hard-to-get fuels. Opponents say there are too many unanswered questions.

Trempealeau County in Wisconsin, on the Minnesota border, which has been ground zero in the debate over frac sand mining has put a one-year moratorium on any new applications for silica sand mining.

The state of Minnesota recently unveiled a new frac sand mining website. Here's more info about the debate collected by MPR, and a number of recent stories. Propublica put together an infographic on how fracing is done.

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