What initially sparked your involvement with the frac sand issue? When the frac sand mines and processing plants came to our city and county, I became cognizant of the injustices occurring to people living near the locations. When government officials did not listen, I spoke up. The result was the formation of Concerned Chippewa Citizens.
What is your biggest concern around the issue? I have many. It’s a convoluted industry with many components, so it’s difficult for people to unwind them all. The health, safety and welfare issues have not been resolved. There has been very little effort by the industry to directly research these issues. Silica is carcinogenic. The jury is still out on the long term impacts of the respirable crystalline silica particles on life near the mines. The potential could be huge. Little is known about the long term impact on water quality and quantity around these facilities that will assure that citizens will be healthy and safe over the long term.
Over the years there have been a number of monitoring efforts that community members have worked on. What have been some of the biggest accomplishments and some of the biggest challenges?
Dylos monitors set up by Hank Boschen and others who purchased their own equipment was an ingenious idea. The collection of that data and visual monitoring located at several sites around the county was critical to show that there were particulates in the air. This preliminary work alerted the sand companies to the fact that we were watching, and while speciation [identification of the type of dust] was not a part of the study, particulates were registering and viewers could see them fluctuate based upon wind changes and activity at the mine and processing sites. When Jeff Falk from Fountain City analyzed the data, it became obvious there was concern. EOG Resources then hired an industrial scientist, but one study of short duration is not enough. Before we know people will be safe, we must understand the cumulative impacts of these operations, yet people and animals are exposed to these operations daily.
Initially there was a lot of interest in dust/silica and now it seems a lot of attention is given to water issues, what do you think sparked this?
There is still a great deal of attention in terms of air quality measures although the mining operations try to assure us that there is no danger. It’s very difficult to know the long term impact of air quality on a human being or animal.
There has been an increasing concern on the water issue because, finally, one of the DNR folks came out with the concern that there was a case for leaching. Now we are learning more about the sulfides, low pH, and oxidation, all of this helps to get the heavy metals into the water. It’s an issue of quality over the long haul and the impact, safety.
What advocacy strategies have you found to be effective in your effort? Having started eight years ago, I think we have tried every strategy that we could possibly come up with. It is critical that people stick together, work together, strategize and support each other, attend meetings, learn more, and speak with informed minds. Governmental officials must learn that citizens have done their homework and that fossil fuel industries are notorious for duping the innocent. It is powerful for citizens who have studied the issues to attend a meeting and challenge information spread by the companies.
You’ve been speaking with a number of other groups who also deal with the struggles of extractive industries. In growing your network, what have you learned?
People in many parts of the country have mutual concerns. We in the Midwest have a link to is happening here and in other areas where hydraulic fracturing is happening. Pipeline issues, tar sands extraction...all are tied to the extreme energy extraction issues. Noise, trucking, rail, tanker bombs, export concerns affect us all. It’s part of this whole big system. We have to quickly make a paradigm shift in the way we regard energy if we are to survive.
What is one thing you wished you knew when you started this fight?
I wished I knew more about was how long it would take. Eight years of my life have transpired, and almost every day I’ve worked on this. It’s a long time to work on an issue to have it not resolved. However, the time spent has opened up new learning, teaching and organizing opportunities. The concern has spread and it is great to see so many others involved all over the world on energy and climate issues that started out for me with the intrusion of a silica plant in the City Limits.
What is something that has gotten easier and something you continue struggle with? Making connections with people who have common concerns has made it easier, but there is a need for educating and networking with more who can make a great difference. It is critical that voices are heard and that decision makers learn to say “NO” to the intrusion we are facing and the conditions we are creating for future generations. Empowering people to do that is a struggle!
Any words of advice for people who are starting to face extractive industries in their communities?
Get involved; sustain the effort and don’t give up! We have a long way to go, but people can change and move to other forms of sustainable energy use. Hope for a better life for many is critical, and our young people must become involved and use their creative, critical thinking and problem solving skills to create new ways of living before we make this planet uninhabitable.
Is there anything you want to share out with people who will read this publication? I think it’s important that we persevere, show great determination, use our voices and make it known to our government officials that we want to be participating in our local, state and national government. The power of big industry and corporations must be reined in. All citizens have to be willing to accept and/or work toward making change to improve the living conditions for all people now and into the future so we can collectively live on this planet.
Photo credit: Julie Strupp/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism