Neighbors say rock mine is sending toxic dust into their neighborhood

MERIDIAN, Idaho (KBOI) - Next to the formerly quiet Aspen Cove development in Meridian, you'll find a rock mining operation run by Idaho Sand and Gravel. It's been extracting rocks out of the ground and crushing them for 3 years. Neighbors have had enough.

"Every time we get those predominantly northwest breezes that we get here, and we get these 35 to 40 mile an hour winds like we had over the weekend, you can see it looks like those dust storms they have down in Phoenix where it covers the whole area," said Keith Ebeling of Meridian.

"Some of the people closer to the mining operation can't even open their back windows on their houses because the tracks are full of the silica (dust) buildup. They don't let their kids go out in the back yard for 3 years," said Glen Hickey of Meridian.

Neighbors say on breezy days it's common to have to hose off outdoor furniture 2 or 3 times a day to clear the dust.

Hickey hired a lab in Boise to test the dust. The report provided to KBOI 2News shows the dust contains more than 87% silica. Sitting in the rock piles it's harmless, but suspended in the air where you can breathe it in, if it's concentrated enough, it can be dangerous.

"And we've found out lately there's silica, which is a very hazardous byproduct of their crushing operation up here," Ebeling said.

According to the American Lung Association, mining is one of the "at risk" jobs for what's called Silicosis. It's a lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust.
It can make it hard to breathe, give you a chronic cough and in extreme cases cause death.

The Truth Squad went to Saint to see if living near a rock mining operation is just as dangerous as working at one.

"Nobody really knows whether somebody, like a neighbor where it's drifting through is enough of an exposure," said Dr. Karen Miller at Idaho Pulmonary Associates.

But Dr. Miller says there are cases where second hand exposure has led to disease.
"Occasionally people, like wives in the old days, when they did their husbands laundry would sometimes get silica exposure that way by shaking out their clothes," Dr. Miller said.

In an email, Ryan Russell of Idaho Sand and Gravel said, "Mining operations in the area of the site have taken place for decades without such concerns being raised; this operation is no different and should not cause concerns."

A "temporary use permit" to mine expired on April 4. The company has applied for an 18-month extension to continue mining operations. The Truth Squad took the neighbors' health concerns to city hall to find out what city leaders are thinking.

"We simply say; is mining an appropriate activity and should it be extended? And we'll be taking a careful hard look at whether it should be extended," said Bruce Chatterton who's the Director of Community Development for Meridian.

Neighbors believe the city will grant the extension and their not happy about it.

"This is a pure mining operation, pure and simple. They can call it anything they want to call it, but if it walks like a duck, and squawks like a duck it's a bloody duck," Ebeling said.

There is a public hearing on the extension request on April 17 at Meridian City Hall.