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DEP starts setting up silica study in Tunkhannock

TUNKHANNOCK – Near the site where trains hauling sand for the gas industry will transfer their loads to trucks, air quality specialists with the state Department of Environmental Protection set up a portable weather station Thursday.

Instruments strapped to a truck-sized white box with a protruding silver tower will measure precipitation, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, said Gary LaBelle of the DEP’s air quality monitoring division. He brought the equipment from Harrisburg as part of a special DEP effort to study how the sand plant will affect local air quality.

The DEP proposed the study at the request of Wyoming County commissioners. The facility planned by D&I Silica LLC has generated controversy in Tunkhannock. Opponents point to warnings by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that breathing the sand in high-enough quantities for long-enough periods can cause health problems. Efforts to reach company representatives were unsuccessful.

Hydraulic fracturing companies use the sand to prop open tiny cracks they blast in underground shale layers like the Marcellus. Each well in Northeast Pennsylvania uses between 5 million and 13 million pounds of sand.

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The weather station will help the DEP characterize local air patterns, Northeast air quality program manager Mark Wejkszner said. Mountains looming over the Susquehanna River valley will influence air flow, he said.

Along with the weather station, the DEP will place at least two monitors that measure fine particles in the air, spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said. The agency has not quite finalized its monitoring plan, she said.

The sand facility will not require a DEP air quality permit, she said, though the agency can get involved if it find problems.

“If we found some issue with air quality here, we would let people know,” she said.

The DEP’s results could prove useful to other area residents. Three sand transfer plants are already operating in Taylor, Carbondale and the Pittston area.

County commissioners originally considered hiring a private air quality scientist from Queensbury, New York, to study Tunkhannock’s air but instead decided to ask DEP to do it. Timothy McAuley, Ph.D., proposed a $130,000 study at a November meeting with commissioners. Instead, they hired him to review DEP’s study for $7,500.


This article was written by Brendan Gibbons from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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