Fracking sand spill prompts health warning in Bashaw

Bashaw residents are being urged to take precautions after a spill of sand used for fracking was left for nearly a month before being cleaned up.

About 580 tonnes of frac sand was spilled on June 17 at the Wild Rose Country Commodities site near the Canadian National Railway in Bashaw, a town east of Ponoka.

A concerned citizen called the Environmental Public Health department of Alberta Health Services on July 15.

“We were not aware of it until that day,” said Central Zone Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw. “A site inspection was done that day and then an order for cleanup was issued the following day so the site was remediated within a couple of days.”

A health advisory was issued for the community on Wednesday as frac sand is a very fine crystalline silica material and can easily be mistaken for sand used in children’s sandboxes or playgrounds. It can pose a risk to public health through inhalation and direct exposure to the material. Silicosis, a lung disease, is caused by inhaling silica.

However, limited short-term exposure would not be expected to cause serious health effects, said AHS.

“We issued the advisory because we’re not sure, given that the sand was out for a month with no restriction to public access, whether people might have taken some of that sand home to use in play boxes or that kind of thing and so we’re being very cautious,” Hinshaw said.

AHS also put posters up in Bashaw warning residents about the harmful effects of the sand.

“If people did take sand away, we recommend they dispose of it in a municipal landfill but they need to wet it down to reduce the possibility of dust and be sure not to breathe it in. Bag it. Wear gloves.”

Hinshaw said so far no reports have come in of any residents who have been in close contact with the sand or taken it away for person use.

Penny Shantz, mayor of Bashaw, said the town knew about the spill “very soon” after it happened.

“It’s a small town. We’d heard about it from other citizens … I am assuming the company called the town office to report it but I can’t confirm that,” Shantz said.

Shantz said the spill was contained with a fence around it and that it’s the first frac sand spill the community has seen.

The sand was being stored in a large bin, waiting to be transported elsewhere by truck or rail, Shantz said.

“For whatever reason, that bin gave way.”

She said she was not aware that anyone had fallen ill or been hospitalized due to the spill.

“It’s a private company on private land and accidents happen,” said Shantz. “We’re pleased it’s been cleaned up and are moving forward.”

Wild Rose Country Commodities could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Fracking is a controversial process of extracting hard-to-get oil. It is done by fracturing the shale bed with high-pressured injections of water and toxic fracking chemicals.

An American report found 750 chemicals are used in fracking, at least 29 of which are considered carcinogenic or toxic.

Environment Canada recently found itself in hot water after a number of environmental groups and experts criticized it for leaving fracking chemicals out of its updated list for the National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Anyone in Bashaw who believes they may have been exposed to the material should contact AHS Environmental Public Health at 1-877-360-6366.

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