While flying back home to Wisconsin earlier this fall, Victoria Trinko had no trouble spotting her family farm from the sky. She simply looked for the frac sand mines that have begun to punctuate the rural Midwestern landscape.
From the ground, tending to her cows, Trinko said she is more likely to feel, smell or taste the presence of those mines and the trucks hauling its powdery sands toward an expanding array of natural gas drilling sites. The sand is an essential ingredient in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.
"When I walk in from the field, I can feel the dust on my face. This grit, I can chew it," said Trinko, the town clerk for Cooks Valley, Wis. In October, about a year after a mine opened within a half-mile of her home, she was diagnosed with asthma.
Trinko can't prove a connection, much as it's been tough for residents at the other end of the natural gas production line to definitively say that drilling has poisoned their air and water. But she is one of a number of Midwest residents convinced of the health hazards posed by the frac sand mining that has proliferated in tandem with fracking. The process of fracking requires blasting large volumes of water, chemicals and silica sand into bedrock. Up to 4 million pounds of the sand is used per well to prop open the newly created rock fractures that release the natural gas.