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Frac sand does not carry ‘toxic soup of chemicals’

I have waited to hear a reply to the letters to the editor’s and editorials from the upstream service companies concerning the sand spill in Bashaw. Having not seen one, I decided to take on the task of explaining fracture (frac) sand.

I am not employed in the industry, having retired a dozen years ago. During my more than 35 years, I was a “fracker,” a adult instructor, a safety practitioner/co-ordinator and, at times, a manager of safety.

Some of the regulations that we had to abide by were two that were omnibus bills: the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and Workplace Hazardous Material Information Systems. These regulations cover all aspects of chemical safety outside of personal purchase consumer goods and the Canadian Nuclear Safety and Control Act. These are only a few but they have the most bearing on the Bashaw so-called spill.

To get to the point in question: how toxic is this product?

The good doctor from north seems to have an idea that the sand was already mixed in “a toxic soup of chemicals.” It was not! Sand and liquid chemicals are shipped to the well site in separate containers and are not mixed until the frac job is underway. If for some reason all the sand was not used, it was returned still dry. Hence, no soup.

Children would not play in this sand very long. Frac sand does not clump (stick together) whether wet or dry. Not much fun in a sand box when you cannot make anything other than a slippery hill. The harm caused by sand is extremely slow and would take many years of constant exposure to show a negative result.

Do not breath the dust. Do not ingest it. Brush it off exposed skin. That is what you should do to keep yourself from harm.

It, of itself, does not have a toxic result except through lengthy deliberate exposure.

As for the use of the word “spill,” if a transport returns to the warehouse with a partial load, they can choose, if there is no silo room available, to dump it on there property. That is not a spill. Reporting a spill is covered under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. You do not report a spill of an inert property. And this is how sand is classified under this act. Otherwise all those hills of gravel spread around the counties and later dumped to make or repair roads would have to make out a report. Nothing like new gravel on a country road to produce dusty conditions; conditions you do not see when frac sand is being loaded or pumped.

The Ponoka News editorial of July 30 is highly concerned with the fact that the “spill” was not reported and had to be reported to Alberta Health Services before anything was done.

AHS? They have sent out a health warning about an inert product on private property?

I wonder why. It was mainly a disservice that upset people.

The good mayor of Bashaw had enough sense to see it right and not bash one of their corporate citizens.

This is not part AHS’s expertise nor their mandate. Unless they think that with their poor wait times in hospitals, they will have room for you several years down the road. (Sorry, I could not help myself.)

Leo Belanger


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