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Hiding our heads in the sand (09/01/2013)
From: Marie Kovecsi

Is the City Planning Commission (PC) hiding its head in the sand? Why do they bounce around the issue of measuring baseline air quality? This is health and safety information for all of Winona’s citizens.

The Citizens Environmental Quality Committee (CEQC) has recommended that air quality baseline measurements begin “as soon as possible.” These are science-based recommendations. They include measuring crystalline silica sand and diesel levels in our air.

Why does the PC not want to know this basic information about our air?

So far,their reasons seem to be:

1. Wait. We will wait for the state to set acceptable levels of crystalline silica sand in our air.

This was expressed in the PC meeting on April 8, 2013 when the City Council asked the PC to address the air quality issue and used again in the meeting on the 26th of August. But citizens and our science-based (CEQC) are recommending that BASELINE measures be collected. We do not need to wait for state standards. We need to know what is in our air now.

2. “We do not have the expertise to conduct this research. Who pays for measuring air quality?”

The CQC, in July, gave the City Planning Department staff specific information on 2 state programs to assist in this task. Information on applying for these programs/grants has not been made available to the PC. CEQC also has had no follow-up since they did not hold an August meeting. (City Planning staff said it was not needed.)

Winona County has provisions for industry to pay for studies (traffic, environmental reviews, etc.) and the county then hires a consultant to conduct the study. This model would work for the City if we happen to not qualify for any State programs. But, then, we don’t know if we qualify since the Planning Department has not provided any information on this.

3. What are levels of acceptable crystalline silica sand? Who do we compare ourselves to, once we get any baseline levels from our air?

California and other states have adopted a measure of 3 micrograms per cubic meter, based on scientific research. Minnesota Department of Health research is reviewing this level. (In a public meeting in June 2012 at Winona Middle School, Dr. Hillary Carpenter, Principal Toxicologist in the Minn. Dept of Health, Health Risk Assessment Unit, gave us cautionary advice when he said, “Find out all you can about what is in your air.”)

MSA/OSHA recommends that current workplace measures (set in the 1970s) should be cut in half, due to known association of crystalline silica sand with silicosis and other respiratory illnesses.

The city did experiment by using Dr. Crispin Pierce, UW-Eau Claire, and graduate students. They collected air samples in the city garage in January of 2012, finding levels of 19 micrograms per cubic meter. This was only a sample from one hour, not enough to be considered any baseline measurement. But it should be enough to alert us to say we want to know more about our air quality.

4. How/Where do we measure our air for reliable baseline data?

The City Council discussed this and sent a request to the PC to review air quality issues. (The PC passed the issue on to the CEQC once and decided to wait for state standards once when they recently discussed air quality.) City Council requested monitoring at property fence lines, including both up and downwind samples. But we can use protocols from other air quality studies, protocol from the MPCA, and, most likely would be hiring a consultant to work out proper study techniques.

We do not need to know how/where to collect baseline measures, we only need to recognize that it is important to begin measuring “as soon as possible” to use the language of the CEQC recommendations.

Citizens have been particularly frustrated when city-appointed committees do not review all relevant data to make decisions. We heard the same comments at the August meeting that we heard in April. Wait. We don’t know enough. Have the CEQC look at this (and when they didn’t like the CEQC review/recommendations, they ignored them.)

Meanwhile diesel traffic and exhaust has increased, since truck traffic has increased. Barges of frac sand have increased in May, June, and July of 2013 from the 2012 numbers. It takes 60 truckloads to fill one barge.

Citizens have observed and reported to the city blowing sand at processing/transport sites and from uncovered rail cars. Citizens have observed and reported processing sites working at 3 am, 6 am, outside of approved hours. Citizens have monitored diesel truck traffic over our downtown bridge.

Do citizens have to collect air quality data, also?

We want to know the baseline measures of our air quality and do not understand the reluctance of city staff to provide full information when our committees discuss this important health/safety issue. We expect and rely on city officials, elected, hired and appointed/volunteers to work diligently for our common good.

Heat, safety, welfare and quality of life are not just nice platitudes. Let’s all work to make Winona a safe, healthy city by measuring our air quality now. No more bouncing around this important issue.

 

 

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