At present, sand is being extracted too fast for natural systems to replenish. To keep pace with exploding demand, sand miners are dredging lakes and rivers, chipping away at coastlines and destroying entire small islands. Sand extraction in rivers often deepens the channel, making bank erosion more likely. Similarly, when miners remove sediments, they often also remove plant life, which can have adverse impacts on aquatic food chains.
More wealthy western countries are beginning to use sand alternatives. For example, asphalt and concrete can be recycled and crushed rock can be used instead of sand in some cases.
For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
International demand for sand has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to rapid urbanization in Asia. Sand is used to make the concrete and asphalt for every new building, road, and residence. More than thirteen billion tons of sand were mined for construction last year, 70 percent went to Asia. According to a report from the BBC, China used more sand in the last four years than the U.S. used in all of the 20th century. It’s not just Asia, though, the number of people worldwide living in cities has quadrupled since 1950.
Sand is formed when rocks are pulverized by natural forces and then transported to shores by wind and water over the course of millions of years. At present, it is being extracted at a rate much too fast for natural systems to keep up with.
To keep pace with exploding demand, sand miners are dredging lakes and rivers, chipping away at coastlines and disappearing entire small islands. Sand extraction in rivers often deepens the channel, making bank erosion more likely. Similarly, when miners remove sediments, they often also remove plant life, which can have adverse impacts on aquatic food chains. The practice can have disastrous effects for infrastructure too. For example, for many years, sand for construction in Shanghai was mined from the Yangtze River. The practice was banned in 2000 after entire bridges were undermined and 1,000 feet of riverbank fell into the river.
Many other countries are imposing regulations on sand mining. In the United States, sand cannot be mined near large residential areas or offshore. Export limits and mining restrictions are in place in several Asian countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and India, but the “sand mafia” in India is making regulators’ job difficult. The illegal sand mining industry is expected to be worth more than $2 billion a year.
Pattison Sand Co. of Iowa was sued by residents of Bridgeport, Wisconsin in an attempt to block a mine run by the company.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the underground pumping of water, chemicals and a special, hard, round sand. That helps open rock layers so rigs can pump out the natural gas and oil. Continue reading →