To save a contractor whose bulldozer slid into a retention pond at the Hi-Crush frac sand mining facility in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, company officials released about 10 million gallons of process water.
A rescue team saved the man after he got stuck in his airtight cab for two and a half hours, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. Now, however, the orange tinted pond water has flowed 40 miles to the end of the Trempealeau River and is threatening a wildlife refuge nearby, according to WKBT.
The liquid released contains mud, silt, and sand as well as possibly trace amounts of a chemical called polyacrylamide used to separate sediment from frac sand, Hi-Crush CEO Scott Preston told reporters earlier this week. WPR reported that the chemical is considered nontoxic but does contain trace amounts of the neurotoxin acrylamide leftover from the manufacturing process.
Hi-Crush’s Whitehall processing facility, where the spill occurred, was completed in 2014 and is capable of producing 2,860,000 tons of 20/100 frac sand per year, the company says.
One neighbor who grows corn told WPR that a section of his land is now covered in orange slime. “What is it? What do you do with it? Is anything going to grow in it?” he asked reporter Rich Kremer.
Trempealeau County Board Chair Tim Zeglin said he was thankful that no one was killed. “We’ve heard a lot about how the mining companies could engineer solutions to any possible disasters or any possible outcomes,” he told Kremer. “And all this proves is there’s no way to engineer a solution that will prevent a human error.”
Preston said Hi-Crush is performing cleanup and restoration efforts. “We’ve already started installing sediment runoff barriers to capture the silt. We’ve repaired the berm on the pond to prevent further drainage,” he said, according to WPR. “We’ve started to clean up the neighboring properties that have gotten any of this material on their property and we will continue to work with the DNR on all cleanup efforts based upon their recommendations.”
On Wednesday, WKBT reported that the water in the river is being tested for chemicals, metals, and oil that would call for a specific type of cleanup. Results are expected to be ready in about a week.