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U.S. Silica products are versatile

December 15, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The glass from which you drink, a dish that holds your food or the paint on your walls all could have begun at U.S. Silica, the sand-mining plant in Morgan County.

The process of making sand has been around a long time. At the U.S. Silica plant off U.S. 522, the mining and processing of silica began around the late 1800s.

Ted Glennon, plant manager, said small family-owned companies mined and processed sandstone until Pennsylvania Glass Sand acquired the companies in 1929.

Improvements have been made from the pick-and-shovel days. Today, miners strip the inner core and drill holes down through the rock, and blast it.

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"This is a hard rock mine," Glennon said.

The arduous process goes through many steps to make sand, and the plant controls the process by computers and with about 83 employees.

First, the extracted rocks are crushed into less than six-inch stones. A second crushing reduces the stones to less than 1 1/2 half inches in diameter and then they are ground into sand through a rod mill, which is a wet process, Glennon said.

The next step involves removing the silts and fine clays, which is done through a flotation process. The impurities are floated out of the slurry to a waste stream.

The waste stream is pumped to a 160-foot-clarifer, where the underflow is collected and pumped to a settling basin, which is the old Hancock quarry. The overflow is pumped to the center of the 750-foot-long-by-250-foot-wide water pool.

The water is reused, Glennon said.

The wet sand goes into the drain shed, where it dries naturally in about 48 to 72 hours. After the drain shed, it goes into a dryer, where the last 5 percent of moisture is removed.

The sand is separated in the screen tower and segregated into various grains used for many products. One use for the finely ground sand is as an extender in paints. The plant services many paint companies, he said.

The products that come from the U.S. Silica sand mine are paints, silicone sealant, floor tiles, Corningware, glass for airplane runway lights and beacon lights on planes, according to Glennon.

Another product is the silica thread used for armor plating to protect Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, and the plant produces 400,000 tons of usable sand a year.

Becky Kuykendall has been working at the plant for 19 years. She is the plant's environmental health and safety coordinator.

"We are very environmentally conscious and work to be a good partner with the community. We have a great environmental record," she said.

"Safety is first," she said. "Our record for safety has been good, and we have a lot of great employees who care about what they are doing, and the company cares about them. It has a mom-and-pop feel to it, even though it's such a large corporation," she said.

U.S. Silica is the second-largest industrial sand producer in the country. It has 13 sand and mineral mines and processing plants in the Midwest and East, and employs 675 people. The company recently was purchased by San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital.

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