• Silica Sand
  • Mines Producing Silica Sand

Sand naturally occurs as a granular material comprised of fine particles of rock and minerals. Silicon, a mineral compound that exists in silica sand, is actually silica dioxide. In technical terms rock and minerals become sand when reduced to a size from two millimetres to one sixteenth of a millimetre in diameter through weathering and other natural occurrences. Finer particles are known as silt and larger particles are known as gravel.

Quartz is the most common mineral found in the world's continental crust and nearly all silica sand comprises tiny particles of quartz crystals. Therefore, silica sand is primarily quartz that has been broken down over time by the actions of wind and water until it exists as fine granules. It has been found that these granules have many uses ranging from water filtration through to the making of concrete. Other applications of silica sand include the following:

- Glass manufacturing
- Creation of castings and moulds
- Sand blasting
- Adding texture to smooth roads

The main use of silica sand remains as an important ingredient in the creation of industrial concrete as it makes up the the bulk of concrete production throughout the world.

There are many different types of sand found throughout the world, such as the black sand derived from either volcanic rocks, or the containing of magnetite, the sought after white sandy beaches found in picture perfect holiday locations are made up of broken down limestone and rich yellow coloured sand contains iron.

Silica sand is widely available throughout the world although it can create a health risk if not handled responsibly, particularly where it is being cut or pounded when demolishing old buildings and concrete foundations, or when sandblasting. The fine dust which is created in this manner can cause much damage if it is allowed to enter a person's lungs. When this occurs it can create a disease known as silicosis that remains dormant in the lungs for many years before the damage is noticed. Silicosis can also make the ill person vulnerable to contracting tuberculosis and lung cancer. For this reason, when creating fine dust situations where silica sand is present, all people in the vicinity must wear respirators.

Australia has been a user of silica sand ever since white settlement, with one of its major silica sand mines being created in the 1930's on the Kurnell Peninsula near Sydney, where Captain Cook had earlier landed. There were more than 70 million tonnes of silica sand removed from this mining operation before it was closed in 1990. Silica sand from this mine was used to support the growing Sydney building market during that period.

Other places in New South Wales, where silica sand is mined, include the Broken Hill area in the far south west of the state and the Newcastle Stockton sand dunes in the east. In Queensland silica sand mining has been taking place on North Stradbroke Island for many years.

Most Australian states mine silica sand for building purposes and this is expected to grow as the population increases and more buildings are required, although there is often arguments against sand mining generally from environmental groups, who claim it destroys natural animal habitats as well as causing damage to fragile sandy soil based ecosystems.

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