Alternatives to Coastal Dune Mining Available, Landmark Study Finds
A new study concludes that alternatives to mining Michigan's rich coastal dune sands for foundry use may be available.
The report, "Coastal Dunes and the Auto Industry: Investigating Alternatives to Mining," is the first official look into potential alternatives to coastal dune mining in nearly 30 years -- and the first to conclude that sources of inland sand exist that could be an alternative to coastal dune sands.
Produced collaboratively by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Michigan State University, and Ford Motor Company, the study was funded by the Michigan Coastal Management Program, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and NOAA.
Dunes along Lake Michigan's shoreline have long been recognized as a special - if not unique - natural resource. Thousands of years old, they are the largest concentration of dunes on a freshwater system on Earth. Considered among the lakeshore's most valued natural features, they support numerous endangered and threatened species and are a non-renewable resource.
"Once these magnificent natural treasures are gone, they're likely gone for us and future generations," said Cameron Davis, president of the Alliance, which led the effort to undertake the study with assistance by Tanya Cabala, one of the region's foremost experts.
Cabala said finding alternatives to Michigan's dune sand is good for the state. "These magnificent dunes are not only recognized internationally for their ecological value, but are also loved by citizens in shoreline communities and across the Great Lakes for their beauty, historical significance and timelessness," she said.
Michigan's coastal dunes are especially attractive to the foundry industry in making metal castings for auto manufacturing. In 1976 Michigan enacted the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act to minimize the effects of coastal dune mining, but it continues nonetheless -- with more than 2 million tons of sand mined annually from 1978-99.
The study focused on meeting the foundry industry's specifications for industrial sand in automotive casting, including factors that would determine whether an inland sand deposit might be feasible and cost effective. Among those factors: availability of sufficient volumes of sand of consistent quality; proximity of a sand mine to reliable, economical transportation; and total delivered cost of sand. Other factors related to the makeup of the sand itself -- such as grain shape and size distribution, clay content and pH.
"There appear to be several large volumes of sand deposits . . . that could yield a sizeable supply of high-quality sand," said Dr. Alan Arbogast, associate professor of geography at MSU and the study's lead researcher.
Ford has eliminated all use of dune sand in its auto-casting processes, according to Andrew S. Hobbs, Ford's director of environmental quality. "Yet, additional new sources of inland sand deposits may be viable alternatives should further investigations confirm they are cost-effective," he said.
The partnership is proposing a move away from the industrial use of coastal dune sand by issuing recommendations and encouraging state elected leaders to offer incentives -- among them grants and loans for feasibility studies, and tax incentives for sand mining companies that opt to switch to inland mining from coastal mining.
For more information, see: http://www.greatlakes.org/news/012507.asp
To see the report: http://www.greatlakes.org/news/pdf/coastal_dunes.pdf
(The report may take a few minutes to download. For faster downloading, right-click on the link and save file to your computer's desktop.)
Alliance for the Great Lakes