Frac sand has been a hot topic in Winona for years -- partly because many believe breathing in the dust is dangerous.
Now city officials are hoping to regulate the air quality to help protect residents.
Winona city officials have been looking into monitoring the air quality for the past few years, and even more so ever since its one year moratorium on new and existing mines expired in March.
Every day, dozens of trucks travel one of the most popular truck routes in Winona transporting silica sand.
“The busiest truck route for silica sand traffic is coming off the interstate bridge Hwy. 43 into town and then continuing on the city's Riverview Drive,” said Carlos Espinosa
With so much traffic, and the known health risks of the sand, city officials want to find a way to make sure the air is safe to breathe.
“That's what everybody has the questions about, ‘How much of it is in the air and what does it look like and what is the air like adjacent to the city here,’” said Espinosa.
Espinosa and other city members contacted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for help.
“We believe that this is a good opportunity to pilot test the air quality monitoring to answer the questions that the residents would have,” said Frank Kohlasch, from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
If the city agrees to the project, a monitoring station will be installed somewhere along the truck route to track air quality in the area, but no matter how much sand is transported, Kohlasch doesn't really expect significant results from the monitoring because of the safety precautions already in place.
“The trucks have to be covered when they're on the road,” said Kohlasch. “The trucks typically carry the sand that has been processed, and is a much larger size than what the very small crystal and silica particles are, but we want to be able to confirm that.”
The city also requires facilities to wet the sand while working with it to reduce the dust in the air, but even with regulations already in place, Espinosa says you can never be too sure.
“Air quality is important for every citizen in Winona, and the reason why it's so important is because there have been a lot of unanswered questions up until now,” said Espinosa.
The air quality stations would also monitor fine particles indicating dangerous diesel emissions in addition to monitoring crystal and silica sand.
A member of the MPCA is planning on attending the next planning and commission meeting to provide more details on the plans.
That meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.
The pilot project should cost the MPCA about $60,000 with the city of Winona picking up site preparation and staffing costs.
The Winona City Planning Commission and City Council still need to approve the program.
If it is approved, monitoring is expected to start in Jan. 2014.