We have no trouble backing an effort to close the Rockhill Quarry for good. In fact, we’re not sure it ever should have opened up again in the first place.
This month state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Bucks County Board of Commissioners and the Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance (REPA) all called for the closure of Rockhill Quarry over asbestos concerns.
Today we add our voice to theirs. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection temporarily halted activity at the East Rockhill quarry in December 2018 after the asbestos was discovered. The stoppage should be permanent.
Found in undisturbed rock at the quarry, the asbestos is just one problem we see there, but it’s the one that prompted the most-recent outcry.
The state health department’s deputy secretary of health preparedness and community protection said in a recent letter that not enough is known about the risk of illness related to asbestos fiber present in rock material at the quarry.
But it seems obvious to us that crushing and grinding that rock would certainly exacerbate whatever health risks do exist.
We understand that Raphael Barishansky’s letter likely would not have happened had it not been for the work of a geologist hired by the REPA to critique quarry owner Leigh Hanson’s investigation. Hanson is working with the DEP to assess the extent of the asbestos and gauge risk to the community. It was reported by REPA’s geologist — Robert Erskine — that ended up on Barishansky’s desk.
Yet the grain of salt we’re taking the letter with doesn’t change the taste it leaves in our mouths. Barishansky’s letter clearly states more than once that naturally occurring asbestos should be avoided and left alone. It even warns against gardening near it.
We’re with Santarsiero when he said it’s “clearly time to permanently halt all activities at the quarry in the interest of the health and safety of all.”
In this case, “all” includes 11,000 children who attend school within five miles of the quarry, said Fitzpatrick. He added that any plan to redevelop the quarry in the future should be subject to “a multiyear independent geologic investigation.”
The residents, Santarsiero said, “have the right to expect clean air and water for themselves and their children. Instead, they are living in fear.”
In addition to the asbestos-related worries, we believe nearby residents have valid concerns over noise pollution, truck traffic, and environmental degradation as well.
We’re also still galled by the way the quarry, seemingly abandoned for decades, sprung back into action in 2017 without so much as an appearance before the East Rockhill Board of Supervisors.
By law, quarry operations must remove a minimum of 500 tons of stone per year to keep active their mining permits. Hanson argued that it met the 500-ton threshold each year. Often it hit the 500-ton mark in a single day then went back into cold storage for the rest of the year.
Without an active permit, the quarry would have had to undergo a time-consuming application process. Instead, it not only resumed activity quickly but also enjoyed the benefit of being grandfathered from regulations put into place since the quarry went dark.
When truckloads of Rockhill Quarry stone were weighed at an Ottsville quarry — also owned by Hanson — the same numbers popped up again and again. For instance, in 2010, all six of one truck’s loads tipped the scales at 23.71 tons. Another truck made five deliveries of 24.25 tons each.
Additionally, it seemed some of the records were not well kept, particularly before 2000. Some years showed tonnages that fell short of 500. No records showing the mandatory amount of rock removal were found in 1984, 1993, 1995 and 1996.
Given the presence of asbestos, the neighbors’ concerns, the bitter disputes the quarry has had with East Rockhill Township officials, a recent DEP report of unauthorized activity at the quarry and our contention that perhaps it never should have opened up again in the first place, we have no trouble backing an effort to close it for good.