State environmental officials are investigating a spill at a Jackson County frac sand mine that discolored water in the Trempealeau River.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the spill occurred Saturday at Wisconsin Proppants Hixton mine in the town of Curran, about 12 miles northwest of Black River Falls.
It’s not clear how much material was released or if it involved mine wastewater, which can contain high concentrations of toxic metals as well as chemicals used to process sand. DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian said the release was not stormwater runoff.
“We know there was a spill event at Wisconsin Proppants,” Savagian said. “We know it happened. We don’t know the impacts.”
The DNR took water samples Tuesday, which have been sent to the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene to test for the presence of metals. Staff are scheduled to return to the site Wednesday to further assess the impacts and necessary cleanup.
Savagian said the plant operator, WP Operations, contacted the DNR and “has taken steps to mitigate the release and potential impacts.”
Plant manager Hamilton White referred questions to the DNR. “I’m really not at liberty to talk about it,” he said. “It’s not a major breach of any kind.”
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Town chairman Dwight Swenson, who lives about half a mile from the mine, said he found signs of a spill Saturday morning on Curran Coulee Creek, a class III trout stream, and notified the DNR.
Swenson photographed orange-colored water in the creek and about 2 miles downstream where it enters the Trempealeau River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. He said water levels had receded Sunday but the water remained discolored Tuesday.
Swenson said he’d been unable to get information from mine workers.
“I’m concerned for health, safety and welfare. This is all ending up in the Mississippi River,” he said. “If it is a wastewater pond … it’s dangerous stuff.”
Jackson County Board Chairman Ray Ransom said the county is also seeking information about the spill.
In May 2018, about 10 million gallons of sludge from a Trempealeau County mine made its way down the Trempealeau River and into the Mississippi River after workers at Hi-Crush Whitehall drained a holding pond to rescue a miner whose bulldozer slid into the processing water.
The DNR continues to monitor the environmental impact of that event, which resulted in elevated levels of heavy metals and other contaminants on neighboring farmland and in a Trempealeau River tributary.