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A black market for sand

Need sand? Making lots of concrete? I can get it for you, special deal. Don’t ask where it comes from, capisci? Eh, Mr. government minister, I have an offer you can’t refuse...Sand mafias are mining sand illegally, at times with violence, and simply unsustainably around the world.

The crime is being tracked by, among others, Louise Shelly at George Mason University. Say what? Sand is bring exhausted? Good sand is. Deserts have lots, but it gets rounded, blowing around, and it sticks poorly inside concrete. Some special sands need to be reserved for extracting rare earth minerals for our electric motors and more. Loss of beach sands means, well, loss of beaches, for both recreation and erosion control. More significantly, for people living near or even far from the sand deposits, removing sand wholesale speeds up rivers, draining water faster from the river basin, leaving less for crops, industry, and homes.

The global demand for sand for construction is phenomenal, with China alone using over 7 billion tons a year. so, what are solutions to the problem(s)? Sand is not created quickly, unlike gravel which can be crushed into existence. Limiting sand extraction and careful selection of extraction sites helps the larger situation, but not yet to the point of sustainability. We need to go to the root of the problem - particularly, the construction industry.

This has been an outreach activity of the Las Cruces Academy, viewable at GreatSchools,org.

Ref.: Scientific American, Feb. 2024, pp. 60 ff. and https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s44242-023-00015-5

Vince grew up in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. He has enjoyed a long career in science, starting in chemistry and physics and moving through plant physiology, ecology, remote sensing, and agronomy.
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  • KRWG explores the world of science every week with Vince Gutschick, Chair of the Board, Las Cruces Academy lascrucesacademy.org and New Mexico State University Professor Emeritus, Biology.