The drumbeat of federal, state, and local officials calling for the permanent closure of an Upper Bucks County quarry linked to naturally occurring asbestos continues to grow louder.
Within the last week, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, state Sen. Steve Santarasiero, and all three Bucks County commissioners said the Rockhill Quarry should be shut down for good due to health concerns. And then at a news conference outside the quarry gates in East Rockhill Township Friday morning, two local school officials joined them in raising concerns about the health threat posed by cancer-causing asbestos floating through the air.
An estimated 11,000 students attend schools within five miles of the quarry, according to opponents.
For Scott Bergey, the top official at Upper Bucks Christian School, and Megan Banis-Clemens, a member of the Pennridge School Board, having the quarry operate in such close proximity to hundreds of students, employees and visitors must be addressed.
“As a school administrator, the health and welfare of my students, faculty, parents and visitors is a serious matter,” said Bergey, whose school is less than a half-mile from the quarry.
Banis-Clemens said the school district’s “interest and priority” is the health and well-being of students, staff, and family.
“From my perspective, this is not about whether or not people want a quarry in the community,” said Banis-Clemens. “This is about protecting people and preventing the exposure of asbestos.”
About 80 people, including township supervisors, sign-toting residents, and environmental activities from the around the region, braved frigid temperatures to show their support for ending quarry operations for good. Quarry operations have been suspended since December 2018 when the asbestos was detected.
The flashpoint for their recent heightened activity was a Feb. 7 letter by Raphael M. Barishansky, deputy secretary of the Department of Health. In responding to an inquiry from the Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance, which has been vocal in opposing the quarry, Barishansky wrote that “if possible, NOA should be avoided and left alone ... avoid blasting it, crushing it, or grinding it up.”
Fitzpatrick, Santarsiero, and the commissioner reacted by urging the departments of health and environmental protection to take action against the quarry owner, Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania, which is leasing the property to Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp.
Fitzpatrick called for the “elimination of operations unless Hanson agrees to a comprehensive multi-year geological investigation by independent unbiased geologists.”
Santarsiero went a step further, saying there is no way the quarry can be operated safely as long as naturally occurring asbestos is present.
“This quarry is unsafe,” he said. “There is no way that any operator who’s trying to operate a quarry operation of taking stone from the ground or an asphalt plant can make that operation safe given the presence of naturally occurring asbestos.”
In a written statement, Hanson spokesman Jeff Sieg said the company “continues to work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and remains committed to an operating plan that includes appropriate mitigation measures along with ongoing asbestos monitoring to protect the health and safety of our employees and the surrounding community.”
Sieg added “the microscopic presence” of naturally occurring asbestos “does not specially equate to an inhalation risk.” He said there are “no indications of unsafe levels of asbestos in the air and no indications that employees or the surrounding community have been, or are currently, at risk due to the quarry.”
But resident Katie Zackon, a REPA leader, said the issues cannot be ignored. Zackon, the mother of three young children, lives about a mile from the quarry.
“This beautiful area where I hope to raise my children is an area where I now have legitimate concerns for the health, wellbeing and safety of my own family. The more I learned, the more concerned I became.
“While the Rockhill Quarry has not been operating for the last year, we know that the order from the DEP is a temporary cessation order,” she added. “It is not a permanent cessation order, which is why we will continue to bring our elected officials the facts, continue to ask them to advocate for us, continue to engage our expert to produce more asbestos reviews and reports and continue to keep pushing.”