Photo by Emily Buss
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students Zach Kroening and Kim Schermo use a DUSTTRAK aerosol monitor to test and record air quality measurements Monday near the rail line behind the city garage.
Three University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students braved the bitterly cold temperature Monday afternoon to collect air quality samples near the city garage on West Third Street in an effort to help city officials begin to develop a procedure for conducting future air quality measurements for sand operations.
However, measurements gathered by the students won’t won’t qualify baseline data to use for comparison to state and federal limitations for particulate dust.
Throughout the one-year moratorium placed on silica sand operations in Winona, concerned citizens asked the city to take a more active role in conducting air quality measurements to determine if health hazards exist.
For the last several months, Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa and Winona County Environmental Services Director Jill Johnson have been in talks with Crispin Pierce, a professor in the Environmental Public Health program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. On Monday, three of his students brought air quality monitoring devices and spent an hour taking what Espinosa called “snapshots” of the air quality in Winona. Jeron Jacobson, Kim Schermo, and Zach Kroening, students
majoring in environmental public health, walked the property of the city garage, along the rail line, and behind the nearby loading facility, and recorded several samples of the air.
“From the beginning we recognized this as something that needed to be done. The more information we have about air quality, the better,” Espinosa said. “The reason we were on the city garage property is because the prevailing winds come out of the west.”
The property is located approximately 200 feet southeast of an existing transportation site, which is, Espinosa said, an area where sand is temporarily stockpiled before it is loaded on trains. “We are looking for comparable measurements that we could potentially use in the future.”
The students collected preliminary data that Johnson said will be used in a research project for their college course, and, once evaluated, will be used to help provide direction to city staff for future air quality testings.
“We are looking to secure a snapshot in time, and frankly, we want to see what the method is for testing and find out if this protocol is feasible to use,” Johnson said.
The push for a more conducive answer to air quality concerns arose during an open discussion in June 2012, when area citizens heard from several members of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), among others. MDH representative Hillary Carpenter said the real concern is with “respirable crystalline silica.” “If I were you, I’d be screaming and fighting and asking where the exposure information is, too,” he said.
During Winona City Planning Commission meetings in early July 2012, citizens complained that no study of ambient air had been conducted in Winona, and asked for the idea to be explored. The commission, which was the group studying the controversial silica sand industry during the city's year-long moratorium, recognized the need for ambient air quality testing and directed Espinosa to investigate the possibility of future testing.
While the city does not anticipate conducting any air quality monitoring through state agencies at the moment, the protocol for such a test requires a significant amount of time and money.
“We’ve talked to consultants and they’ve said we would have to have permanent equipment brought in on skids and connected to electricity outlets,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of time.”
At the June 2012 public discussion, MPCA representative Jeff Hedman confirmed the lengthy amount of time needed to effectively gather air quality data, saying a measuring instrument must be placed up- and down-wind of an operation to gather fugitive dust emissions and account for any anomalies or other weather factors. While the process is costly and lengthy, Johnson said the one-day initial testing by the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire students will help city officials develop protocol for any future air quality monitoring.
“This was a relatively simple procedure the students used and it’s a win-win,” Johnson said. “We get to see what they are doing and they get to conduct more research.”
Johnson added she expects the results of the one-day testing to be available next week.
Keep reading the Winona Post for an update of the air quality testing result as it becomes available.