City May be First in Minnesota to Monitor Air for Sand

According to the Winona Daily News, the city of Winona, Minn., may soon be the first in the state to monitor frac sand levels in ambient air.

City officials said that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has offered to set up one air-quality monitoring station with the goal of learning more about frac sand that may be present in the ambient air near truck routes. The MPCA is developing the pilot program for air-quality monitoring in response to a list of questions the city’s planning commission sent to the agency in September.

The city’s planning commission and city council need to approve the program, and additional details, such as where the monitor would be located and how frequently data would be reported, haven’t been finalized.

The MPCA said it would pay for the equipment, its operation and the analysis of the data, with city staff overseeing routine maintenance. According to the MPCA, the single air-quality monitoring station will cost about $60,000.

Air-quality monitoring related to silica sand activities has been a topic of debate in Winona for years. It initially focused on the large piles of frac sand companies were stockpiling near the Mississippi River and port. As those piles were relocated, the discussion turned to the trucks transporting the sand and whether they were covered and the sand was kept appropriately wet to curb dust.

At the city level, the question of whether or not to monitor ambient air has bounced among several commissions and boards since a year-long moratorium on new and expanding frac sand facilities expired in March. Earlier this year, the Citizens Environmental Quality Committee recommended that the city conduct air quality monitoring, and since, the city’s planning commission has been working with the MPCA to learn more about the process.

The city has said for some time that it would be interested in monitoring the air, but was hesitant to take on the project in-house because of a lack of expertise and resources.

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