Upcoming air quality testing in Valley will help determine if dust from a nearby silica plant is affecting the health of Valley residents, as well as teachers and students at the Valley School. The testing is tentatively slated for August and September. A public information meeting on the testing is scheduled for Wed., June 29, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Valley Grange at 1048 Waitts Lake Road in Valley.
According to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Toxicologist Lenford O’ Garrow, complaints from parents of students attending the Valley School have been made to Northeast Tri-county Health District, DOH, and The Washington State Department of Ecology(DOE) regarding the dust from the nearby Lane Mountain Silica plant.
“Based on previous data collected by other organizations at the school and at Lane Mountain Company, the Washington Department of Health needs further data collection and analysis to understand if there are health concerns for students and staff at Valley,” said O’Garrow.
Dust particulates from the Lane Mt. silica plant were tested in 2008 and 2011 to determine if large particulates, known as PM 10, were being released into the air.
The 2008 tests resulted in Lane Mt. receiving a violation from DOE, which the company settled by agreeing to update air monitoring efforts at the facility, adding an additional monitor on the school grounds and submitting a monitoring-data-quality assurance plan to Ecology, according to DOE Communication Manager Brook Beeler.
Beeler said the settlement also lead to a more direct plan for handling dust at the school. If conditions became dusty, the school would contact the company and local and state health directly with the expectation that the company respond.
For managing air quality at the facility, Lane Mountain Company has “progressively improved” operations for managing crystalline silica dust since 2008, according to DOE. The company has equipment that helps control air pollution from sand drying and separation operations. Also, in areas where sand is being crushed or moved, the company uses water to keep dust from getting into the air. Many of the product-sand storage piles are capped with clay to prevent windblown dust from leaving the property.
The new round of air quality testing, which will be conducted by the Department of Health, will focus on finding any smaller crystalline silica and much smaller particles (PM4) that can go deep into the lungs, as well as testing for sulfur dioxide.
DOH Toxicologist O’Garrow said effects from silica dust can range from mild (irritation of the nose, throat and eyes) to high levels that can cause silicosis, a lung disease that causes scarring of the lungs and makes it hard to breathe.
“Health effects of silica dust depend on the concentrations of dust that a person breathes. The exposure investigation is designed to help determine what concentrations are in the air,” O’Garrow said.
Requests to Lane Mountain Silica for comment on the upcoming testing were not returned by press time.
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff