Testimonial: A farmer in Hixton Wisconsin stood up in front of the group and began to tell his story. Originally, he said he wasn’t too concerned about the incoming frac sand mining operation, that “dust was dust.” But as time went on, and the mine opened right next to his property, he started to notice that more and more of his cattle were getting sick, and he started to question if there really was something behind this air quality issue.
According to the farmer, cattle have really poor lungs and he noted that if you were to compare the quality of human lungs to cattle lungs in their capacity and their ability to fight disease, humans would have a 10 and cattle would have a 1. There are about 20 type of respiratory related diseases cattle are prone to. So when he started seeing his herd get sick at an increased rate of about 20%, he started to look look into the effects of dust and particulate matter on cattle. He read, he spoke with vets and he starting asking questions. Over time he learned was that viruses attach themselves to dust particles, and that dust causes inflammation, irritation and even silicosis.
The farmer’s son works at the mine, and in talking about it, his son said that they teach mine workers that if you can see dust, there is 100% chance the bad stuff is in there. If you can’t see it, there’s still a big chance it’s in there. So the farmer started collecting data about dust accumulation. He has photos of dust that collect on his property, that explodes in the air when the mine is blasting, that collect on his mirrors, and his grill, and his car. But the mining company won’t respond to these concerns and after years of working the farm, running a successful business, and raising a family on the property, he feels there is no way forward except to move.
Event notes and reflections:
The event last Sunday in Hixton, WI was focused on opening a space for discussion on the frac sand mining issue and exploring particle visualization. The event was hosted at a farm that abuts a large sand mining operation and was attended by about 20 people, amongst whom were neighbors, local government representatives, farmers, and concerned citizens. The event started with an introduction to the issue, and a group discussion.
The discussion part of this event was an important time for people to share experiences, exchange information, and talk about the personal and community wide tolls people face dealing with the frac sand mining industry.
Several concerns people noted were about:
- The long term exposure to dust and silica coming of the mine and the health risks the neighbors and communities bear from it,
- Threats to livestock through exposure to airborne pollution from the industry,
- The sheer amount of mining operations (over a third of Curran Township is in operational industrial sand mines),
- Lack of support from local government, and state government in ensuring these operations were regulated properly and people were heard, and
- Lack of funds and research to understand the full impacts from the industry.
People also shared experiences on things they had done to learn more about the industry, and work to get their concerns addressed. Some of the actions participants mentioned they had taken were to:
- Capture photographs, videos, and documentation of mining related events of concern,
- Participate in air monitoring with equipment and passive air monitoring techniques,
- Report to the DNR,
- Run for and hold local government positions,
- Host and attend tours of mining operations and communities,
- Communicate with mining companies to air concerns and ask for redress, and Reach out to researchers to learn more about the effects of the industry.
The personal tolls and testimonials people shared during discussion were both heartfelt and alarming. People mentioned feeling burnt out, isolated, overwhelmed, and threatened. Not only was this felt and mentioned by multiple individuals, but the group also noted how they had collectively felt isolated from their neighbors and community. They also felt that almost all forms of redress normally thought of as safeguards in government and in society in this struggle were stripped away or ineffective.
After group discussion, participants began to explore the data and methods for passive particle sampling, and for visualizing particulate matter with the low cost DIY microscope. Participants passed around mirrors and plastic sheets with accumulated dust, and slides of 2.07um polystyrene latex spheres suspended in a fluid - one of the size particles related to human health concerns. These particles that are too small to be seen by the naked eye, but on a mirror left outside the farm for only a few days the dust is visible, and under a microscope these small particles the size so many are concerned about come to life on a screen.
Participants shared both questions they have and things they are thinking of doing going forward. Questions included:
- Why aren’t county nurses involved and helping people identify problems and involved in studies?
- Can we raise more money for monitors?
- How do we make DIY monitors acceptable as evidence?
- How do we present data to government officials in an authoritative manner?
- What are the ways government will accept data?
- How do we get the word out?
- How does terrain play a part in the transfer of ambient silica through the atmosphere?
- How do we make the sand mines responsible to people?
- Is there anyway taxpayers could request more monitoring?
Things we can work on doing:
- Unite on the ethical issues
- Work with local governments to pressure industrial sand mines to pay for sophisticated monitoring equipment measuring pm10 and 4
- Become more informed
- Be a part of advisory committee
- Use a multifaceted approach: get on a county board, town board, work on WI legislature, vote, and use technology.
Thanks for all who helped to make this event possible. Excited for keeping in touch and working on next steps.