HOUGHTON - A bill by State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, would remove control of the development of stamp sands with some exceptions.
Casperson's SB 872, if approved, would make stamp sands "not subject to state environmental law restrictions unless the sands contain hazardous substances that exceed the allowable levels for unrestricted residential use."
Casperson said SB 872 was reported out of committee Thursday, and it is headed to the Senate floor, but it hasn't been put on the calendar, yet.
"Hopefully, we'll get some action in the next few weeks," he said.
Casperson said currently, the Department of Environmental Quality must sign off on any development on stamp sands, and SB 872 would remove that requirement unless it is known there are unsafe levels of toxins in the stamp sand.
In 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Torch Lake and the areas around it a Superfund Site. As part of the remediation of the site, the agency ordered the stamp sand piles around it covered with soil and vegetation to stop the blowing of the sands. The agency declared that project complete in 2006.
Casperson said he's had conversations with city of Houghton officials and the Torch Lake Public Advisory Council, and they expressed concern that development of stamp sands is limited, now. Representatives of the Houghton and Keweenaw road commissions would like to use stamp sand on roads during the winter. Other people have told him it would be a good ingredient for making cement blocks and roof shingles, also.
During hearings on SB 872, Casperson said some Michigan Technological University researchers who have been studying a particular area at the Torch Lake site expressed concern about levels of arsenic and asbestos they found, but he didn't think they adequately connected the contamination they found and stamp sands.
"They didn't really give us an answer in committee," he said. "There is no evidence that stamp sands cause PCBs and asbestos (in the study area)," he said.
Casperson said there are many people who would like to have more development on stamp sands.
"They believe there's some uses and some good there," he said.
Continuing with the current restrictions on stamp sands are affecting people who already have property on or near them, Casperson said.
"We're concerned about property values," he said.
Bob Wagner, DEQ chief of remediation and development in Lansing, said development of stamp sands is not a new concept.
"There are areas that have been developed for years," he said.
Wagner said the EPA has stated there is some risk to surface water from blowing sands not yet covered. However, as a result of hearings in 2013 conducted by the Michigan Department of Community Health, the risk to human health is small.
"The public health assessment concluded they couldn't determine stamp sands were a health risk," he said.
The conclusion of the MDCH report, "Evaluation of inhalation of airborne stamp sands in the Torch Lake Superfund site and surrounding area in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties, Michigan" states "Based on the values used in this exercise, some of which are site-specific data-based values whereas others are default assumptions, the estimated air concentrations of selected metals from Point Mills stamp sands in Calumet might cause harm in the short or long term. More discussion regarding exposure and public health implications is in the main text of this document. If new information becomes available that would change the values, re-evaluation may be necessary. This exercise can inform and guide future risk assessments."
Wagner said officials with the DEQ have no concerns with SB 872.