Fighting frac sand mines and bad horticultural science

March 3 , 2013

Starved Rock: the fight to preserve the state park continues

It was December 12, 2012 when the latest salvo was fired in the fight to preserve Starved Rock State Park from a frac sand mine. That’s when a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Openlands and Prairie Rivers Network stood up for Illinois citizens and filed suit against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). They claimed that the agency’s November, 2012 decision to approve Phase I of the Mississippi Sand LLC mine that would be sited opposite the eastern entrance to the park was “arbitrary and capricious.”

I received word from Tracy Yang of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, who joins us on the show this morning, that Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands have heard from the lawyers for IDNR and the lawyers for MS Sand. Both sets of opposing counsel replied with motions to dismiss the complaint. The lawyers for the environmental groups will respond no later than March 12, 2013.

Meanwhile, in 2013, the battle continues. LaSalle County seems hell-bent on approving as many frac sand mines as they possibly can. And now Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Company has entered the picture.The company hopes to use their facility off Route 71, which is already used for transporting agricultural products, as the sand shipping terminal for the Mississippi Sand Mine.

On Monday, March 4, the City of Ottawa Planning Commission  will hold a public hearing in the Council City Chambers, 301 W Madison Street, Ottawa at 7 pm on the use of the ADM barge terminal for frac sand shipping. ADM is seeking annexation and zoning of the three parcels to “R” rural, and a conditional use to use the parcels for barge fleeting and shipping sand.

While this seems like a peripheral issue, it is yet another key part of the establishment of the Mississippi Sand operation. It’s also an opportunity for the public to show up and be heard–especially Ottawa residents, who have concerns about truck traffic and dust pollution.

Tracy Yang writes about several issues concerning the proposed sand mine:

Health Concerns
Recently, Dr. Crispin Pierce from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire conducted and published some research related to non-occupational health hazards associated with silica sand mining. Major points to consider are that Wisconsin DNR’s modeling program to predict PM 2.5 levels over a 24 hours period (Particulate Matter with diameter of 2.5 microns or less- the sizes that are known to cause silicosis) underestimates the maximum levels actually found. Freshly-fractured crystalline silica, such as that emitted during mining and processing, is significantly more toxic than “weathered” silica. There is also evidence that freshly-fractured silica causes more lung reactivity and inflammation than weathered (“aged”) silica: , .

Currently, the federal government is considering new legislation to update the 1968 laws for occupational exposure to silica dust. Labor unions recognize that the current laws in place are dated and do not accurately protect workers. What does this say about the current understanding of risks related to non-occupational dust exposure, which were formulated at the same time?

It’s true, Illinois is currently examining 2 fracking bills (HB 2615 and HB 3086), discussed in our director’s latest blog posting here, but these are focused on fracking and do not cover sand mining safeguards.

Minnesota has recognized these concerns, and a few days ago a fracking sand moratorium bill passed in the state’s Senate Energy and Environment Committee. The measure would provide for a statewide study on the health and environmental impacts, and the creation of a regional oversight board to set mining standards. It also would authorize local governments to tax companies that mine, transport or process silica sand. This is a big step towards protecting human and environmental health (in MN)! Other governing bodies are starting to recognize the negative impacts of frac sand mining, I hope the Planning Commission can recognize that more study and discussion is needed here in the heart of the frac sand boom!

Tracy notes that on Thursday, March 14 she will be giving a lecture on frac sand mining and Starved Rock at Ottawa’s Reddick Library (1010 Canal St. Ottawa, IL  61350) from 6:30-8:30 pm.

Finally, you should be aware that you can have a real say in how our state conserves and protects our natural resources by attending the 2013 Conservation Congress. It’s a bi-annual event that allows citizens to become involved in a formal process to propose and advocate actions to protect and conserve the natural resources of the State of Illinois.

IDNR is currently prepar ing for the September 2013 Conservation Congress by hosting a series of discussions at forums around the state. The topic areas include water resources, outdoor recreation, fish conservation and fishing, hunting, recreational public access, state parks, mines and minerals and more.

Here’s where they will be held:

March 4, 5: Quad Cities. Western Illinois Campus 7-9 pm.
March 12, 13, 14: Chicago. South Shore Cultural Center, 7-9 pm.
March 21, 22: Belleville. Southwestern Illinois College, 7-9 pm.

If you’re wondering why you should show up, how about voicing your opinion about frac mining reform? Want to attend, but not sure what to say? Send an email to Tracy Yang ( ) and she will send you a list of Sierra Club’s talking points to help you get started.

By the way, it’s not too late to write to Governor Pat Quinn and tell him what you think. We haven’t heard anything out of the Governor’s office. We haven’t heard anything from Mr. Environment on this issue, and it’s about time we did.

Wilmette goes green

I became aware of Go Green Wilmette when I saw show contributor Lisa Albrecht and her friend Drew Solomon do a Climate Reality presentation for them earlier this year. They made sure that I knew about GOING GREEN MATTERS, Sunday, March 10th from 1–5 pm at the Woman’s Club of Wilmette, 930 Greenleaf Avenue.

Margaret Martin-Heaton from Go Green Wilmette joins us this morning to say that there will be 100 exhibitorsand demonstrations on a wide variety of environmental topics. Whether you’re a green novice or an expert, there will be plenty of information. Topics include home energy conservation, renewable energy resources, green cleaning products, organic food choices, green landscaping, transportation, composting, growing your own food, and more.

You can visit the enlarged “Interactive Eco Zone” with displays for all ages, check out the expanded hybrid and electric car exhibit, view the nature photography exhibit and stop by the Go Green Cafe. Bring your batteries, electronics and Styrofoam for recycling. Free admission. For more information about Going Green Matters, visit

The Garden Professors are in the house (so check your facts)

I can’t remember exactly when I first discovered Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. She is Associate Professor at Washington State University I do know that I was at Gargantua Radio down the dial, and I had become aware of her Horticultural Myths column. In it, she rails against a lot of conventional horticultural wisdom, in articles that range from discussions on bone meal to invasive species to disinfecting pruning tools and, one of my favorties, landscape fabric. (Rule of thumb: It might be fabric but it ain’t landscaping.) She is also the author of The Informed Gardener and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again.

So I interviewed her on the big, 50,000-watt blow torch and tucked her name in my memory. A couple of years ago, when she came out with Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: good science – practical application, I invited her to be on my new show.

At about that time, I became aware of a guy named Jeff Gillman. He is Associate Professor, University of Minnesota He had written a book called The Truth About Garden Remedies. In it, he debunked a lot of conventional horticultural wisdom (hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here) by using–oddly enough–SCIENCE! Since then, he has authored or co-authored The Truth About Organic Gardening, Decoding Gardening Advice, and more.

Then, the strangest thing happened. The two of them teamed up with Dr. Bert Cregg, Associate Professor at Michigan State University and Dr. Holly Scoggins, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech to create something called The Garden Professors. Suddenly, truth in gardening was fashionable! What will they think of next?

Not only do they have a blog, they’re on Facebook, too. In fact, I think I caused a bit of a ruckus when, on an FB group called #GardenChat, I noted that Chalker-Scott and Gillman would be on the show today. Suddenly, there was a hot and heavy conversation about compost tea (really!) and the fur was flying!

It is with just a small amount of trepidation that I welcome both Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott and Jeff Gillman to The Mike Nowak Show. I’m girding my loins.

Sequestration hits home on my show

Cathy McGlynn, coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) is back on the show today, and in a weird way, is illustrating how the sequestration that started on Saturday affects real programs.

March 3rd through 9th is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. NIIPP was to have promoted that event as well as their green industry outreach efforts since the gardening season will be starting soon after.

One problem. Because of the mandated budget cuts, there is no money for the Awareness Week programs. If you click on the above link, you’ll see this message:


So much for fighting invasives, eh?

Actully, some things will continue. For instance, NIIPP will be at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show from March 9th to 17th.

And Cathy and I will talk today about a few ornamentals that you should be aware of…mainly because they are exotic invasives. It might shock you to learn that not only should you not be growing

Burning bush
Japanese barberry
Purple loosestrife
Japanese knotweed
Porcelain vine
Butterfly bush
Callery pear (Bradford Pear)

but you shouldn’t be able to buy them at garden centers and box stores. In fact, the City of Chicago has its own list of invasive plants and many states and regions have similar lists.

We’ll do our best to make you unhappy about your plant choices this morning.