Probably no other nonmetallic mineral has more diversified uses than silica (industrial) sand mainly because of its common occurrence around the world and its distinctive physical characteristics, including hardness, resistance to high temperature and chemical action, and relatively low price. Silica sand is the major component of common glasses, foundry molding and cores, abrasive blast sand, and hydraulic fracturing sand. Industrial sand and gravel is also important in ceramics, in chemicals and fillers for rubber and plastics, on golf courses, as a flux in smelting and chemical production, as filter media, and in many other uses.
Demand for silica sand was affected mostly by the fortunes of the glass and foundries industries. The highest production year, 1979, totaled more than 30.4 million metric tons. Since then, production has ranged between 24.5 million to 26.3 million metric tons. In 1978, exports peaked at 4.2 million metric tons. Imports are usually minor, remaining less than 100,000 metric tons since 1984. Decreased production since 1979 can be attributed to decreased demand for glass and foundry sand. Glass sand demand has ranged from 9 million to 12 million metric tons except for the high-demand years of 1978 and 1979. Demand in the flat glass sector has risen since 1985 while demand from the container glass segment has stagnated.
Foundry sand demand remained between 6 million and 7 million metric tons since 1987. Demand for abrasive and hydraulic fracturing sand has generally risen through the late 1980's. Illinois has produced the greatest amount of silica since 1975, producing more than 4 million metric tons annually. Other major producing States throughout the period included California, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, and Wisconsin. On a regional level, the East North Central region (ENC), including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, was the largest production area. The smallest amount was produced in New England. Production was greatest in the ENC region because of its vast silica deposits and proximity to consuming industries, especially glass and foundry consumers.