Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The best article you'll read about illegal sand today

Via Scientific American, a fascinating article about the illegal sand trade: 

...Sand is any hard, granular material—stones, shells, whatever—between 0.0625 and two millimeters in diameter. Fine-quality sand is used in glass, and still-finer grades appear in solar panels and silicon chips for electronics. Desert sand typically consists of grains rounded like tiny marbles from constant weathering. The best sand for construction, however, has angular grains, which helps concrete mixtures bind. River sand is preferable to coastal sand, partly because coastal sand has to be washed free of salt. But coastal sand does get used, especially when builders take shortcuts, leading to buildings that have shorter life spans and pose greater risks for inhabitants. Such shortcuts worsened the damage from the disastrous February 2023 earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria, says Mette Bendixen, a physical geographer at McGill University who has investigated the effects of sand mining since 2017.

I was first alerted to sand mafias by Louise Shelley, who leads the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. Shelley realized sand mining could be a natural evolution of organized crime when, five years ago, she was a guest at a NATO lunch conference held near the Pentagon. A top NATO official approached her to talk about illegal fishing off West Africa, saying it posed a serious threat to European and NATO security. They talked about how the low threshold for entry into an environmental crime such as wildlife poaching can draw criminal rings and then lead them into other types of organized environmental crime, such as illegal logging. Sand mining was another case in point. Shelley says in northwestern Africa there is a confluence of trafficking factors: the region offers entry to European markets, and its mosaic of fragile governments, terrorist groups and corrupt international corporations makes it vulnerable....

It seems to me that you should be able to track sand, kind of like you can come up with the basic impurity profiles of olive oil and the like. That said, I can't imagine the dense network of large construction companies and (lol) sand brokers really care about the provenance of such a basic raw material...

1 comment:

  1. The book mentioned in the article The World in a Grain is worth a read.


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