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'Frac sand' mining could pose health risk to Minnesota workers

The issue of hydrofracking for natural gas has become the source of a national discussion. Proponents of this process say that it's a good way to extract energy resources domestically, while others are very concerned about the safety issues created for workers and those who live near drilling operations.

Interestingly enough, the fracking issue has hit home in Minnesota. No, the Land of 10,000 Lakes doesn't have any natural gas repositories, but certain regions of the state have an ample amount of sand, a crucial component in the hydrofracking process. As such, many communities have raised concerns about the process of mining sand, which can also be dangerous.

Beyond concerns about destruction of natural features, observers have noted potential health hazards associated with 'frac sand' mining. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the dust created by mining sand can cause silicosis and raise the risk for contracting lung cancer. The problem is that miniscule sand particles can enter into worker's lungs and instigate work-related injury and illness.

Recognizing the danger associated with silica sand dust, the Environmental Protection Agency enforces limits on the amount of dust that can be in the air. According to a reports, silica dust levels exceeded federal limits in a number of sand mines in the upper Midwest when they were surveyed.

No matter where public officials land on the issue of frac sand mining in Minnesota, the important thing to remember is that employers owe it to their workers to maintain a safe workplace. In addition to staying within air-quality standards, protective equipment should also be provided to employees. Above all, the health and safety of workers shouldn't take a back seat to the specter of lucrative business transactions.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Next fracking controversy: In the Midwest, a storm brews over 'frac sand'," Richard Mertens, March 9, 2014

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