Silica Sand Storm Stirs Neighbors

11/1/2014 6:00:00 AM
Silica sandstorm stirs up neighbors of Utica-area mine
NewsTribune photo/Scott
                                          AndersonFor the past several
                                          days, silica sand from the
                                          Northern White Sand mine in
                                          northeast Utica has been
                                          blowing onto neighboring
                                          properties, prompting many
                                          residents to file formal
                                          complaints with the Illinois
                                          Environmental Protection
                                          Agency and Northern White
                                          Sand. Recent high winds have
                                          created what local residents
                                          are referring to as a silica
                                          sandstorm.
+ click to enlarge
NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
For the past several days, silica sand from the Northern White Sand mine in northeast Utica has been blowing onto neighboring properties, prompting many residents to file formal complaints with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Northern White Sand. Recent high winds have created what local residents are
referring to as a silica sandstorm.

Kevin Caufield
Staff Writer

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Several Utica residents have filed formal complaints with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency against Northern White Sand due to significant amounts of silica sand blowing off of the mining company’s massive sand piles and onto nearby homes.
Additionally, Utica village officials and the mining company have been unresponsive to the needs of residents living near the mine, say Utica residents being inundated by the blowing sand.
Recent high winds have caused what local residents describe as a silica sandstorm in and around the mining site located along the Osage Curves in northeast Utica.
Throughout the week, large clouds of white sand could be seen blowing off of sand piles and onto neighboring properties. On Friday, hourly wind gusts reached 38-41 mph and sustained wind speeds were 29-32 mph much of the day.
Some of the sand has landed in yards. Some residents could report tasting the sand in the air, and in one instance the sand partially covered a black mailbox.
The airborne sand being whipped around nearby homes has caused many residents to fear for their health. According to the U.S. Department of Labor — Operational Safety & Health Administration, silica sand is defined as a human lung carcinogen that can cause an incurable condition called silicosis that is harmful and in some cases fatal.
Phil Gassman, who lives along North 2803rd Road southeast of the mining site, said he could step outside of his front door and see massive clouds of sand blowing in the wind during the past couple days.
Gassman said he tried complaining to Northern White Sand officials about the sand several days ago but nothing was done.
“We don’t know how much of this is in the air that we breathe,” Gassman said. “We keep asking them to do something but maybe they don’t feel like they have to. But I do remember them saying during the hearings they want to be good neighbors and would take care of things like this.”
Northern White Sand vice president of operations Gene Hodges did not return NewsTribune phone calls seeking comment.
Utica mayor Gloria Alvarado also did not return NewsTribune phone calls seeking comment as to whether village officials are taking action to help residents that live near the sand mine.
Marc Bernabei, who owns a home and property near the NWS sand mine operation, was videotaping the blowing sand Friday to use as future evidence if needed.
His mother, Joan Bernabei, who also lives in the area, said NWS has made a mistake in how they are storing the sand on site.
The mining site features several hills of freshly unearthed silica sand that are several dozens of feet high. But what makes them problematic for residents is that the mounds of sand are stored on the ground at the level as area homes rather than below ground level, such as in a pit.
Consequently, heavy winds are carrying loose sand from the sand hills into neighboring properties.
“The sand piles shouldn’t be as exposed as they are, they should be enclosed,” Joan Bernabei said. “Once winter winds get here we’re going to be putting up with this all the time.”
Kevin Caufield can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or countyreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter at NT_County.

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