Naturally occurring asbestos found at the Rockhill Quarry last December was supposed to halt all work at the site, but state officials were alerted to work activity just days ago.
News that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was alerted to the unauthorized work at the site came Friday from lawmakers and other officials calling on a permanent shutdown of the quarry.
“We are standing today in front of a quarry that is unsafe no matter how it’s operated,” state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-10, Lower Makefield, told a crowd of about 80 people packed near the quarry entrance at 2055 N. Rockhill Road.
Quarry owner Lehigh Hanson first reported finding asbestos to the DEP in December 2018, nearly a year after quarry operator Richard E. Pierson Construction, of Pilesgrove, New Jersey, resumed work after decades of near total inactivity.
The asbestos meant Pierson had to halt work at the site as the state began an investigation determining the potential risks to residents living nearby.
“DEP became aware of unauthorized activity at the quarry that included a front-end loader, transportation of screening material, and the placement of barrels or drums being used to define the quarry,” documents provided by Santarsiero’s office states.
On Friday, neighbors and residents carried signs reading “Asbestos kills, stop the quarry” and similar slogans in the cold, but sunny February afternoon.
The public opposition to the quarry came almost immediately after work resumed about three years ago.
Pierson was awarded a $224 million Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission contract providing asphalt for work on the Northeast Extension north of the Lansdale exit.
Residents believed the quarry to be entirely dormant since as far back as 1983, sparking multiple zoning and legal battles between the quarry and the township.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1, of Middletown, said Friday past meetings with quarry representatives left him believing the company is working in complete disregard of public health and safety.
“They feel they have the finances ... they feel they have the law on their side and they’re going to do what they want to do ...” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick and Santarsiero have both previously called on state and federal agencies to permanently shut down the quarry operations due to asbestos concerns.
The Bucks County commissioners weren’t at Friday’s press conference, but the three-member board released a letter earlier this week, also calling for an end to the quarry.
“This quarry, which saw minimal, if any, operations for decades, presents too great of a health risk to the surrounding community due to (asbestos),” the letter to the state Department of Health and DEP states.
“As leaders of a county which has been the home of many heavy industries in its long, proud history, we know the true effects of exposure to materials like asbestos on human beings,” the letter adds.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen linked to lung diseases and cancer, according to information from the National Cancer Institute.
State health department Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection wrote in a letter to officials and residents this month that the risk of exposure is lowest if the source is undisturbed.
Zackon is one of the local residents Santarsiero and Fitzpatrick credited with leading the opposition to the quarry.
“This beautiful area where I hoped to raise my children is an area where I now have legitimate concerns for the health, well-being and safety of my own family, and yours too,” Zackon said.
The DEP has contacted the quarry to cease further work and return the disturbed materials to the main stockpile at the site, and dispatched an inspector to the site “to ensure all directives are adhered to,” the documents from Santarsiero’s office add..