Asbestos discovery at Upper Bucks quarry halts operations

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U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has asked Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for a thorough review of the environmental impact of renewed mining at the Rockhill Quarry in Upper Bucks County. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has asked Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for a thorough review of the environmental impact of renewed mining at the Rockhill Quarry in Upper Bucks County. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The discovery of asbestos at an Upper Bucks County quarry has fueled concerns about the impact of renewed mining among residents and elected officials.

On Dec. 5, operators of the Rockhill Quarry in Perkasie notified the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that a rock sample mined there contained fibrous asbestos. That sampling was a part of a safety process required before the company could begin removal in a new area, according to DEP spokesman Neil Shader.

The state agency immediately ordered the mine — that had been dormant for about three decades — to cease operations.

This week, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick wrote to Gov. Tom Wolf, applauding the state government for ceasing operations at the site after the discovery and asking for a “more thorough environmental review” investigating neighbors’ complaints.

“We are very concerned about this asbestos getting in the air,” said Daniel Soliday, an accountant who said he lives about 1,000 feet from the quarry. Soliday and other residents formed the Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance, Inc. to protect the environment and the community’s quality of life.

Prior to 2018, the quarry resembled a wooded pond wedged between Nockamixon State Park and state game lands more than a removal site. In 2017, Richard E. Pierson Materials Corporation, which leases the property from Hanson Aggregates, received a $225 million contract to provide materials for a Pennsylvania Turnpike widening project and began mining on the property again.

Asbestos, said Soliday, is only the most recent on a list of concerns about revived removal operations. That list also includes “the dust, the noise, the blasting, there’s some endangered species that live right in this area.”

The relationship between East Rockhill Township, where the quarry is located, and the operator has been acrimonious, with each side taking the other to court earlier this year.

Hanson Aggregates spokesman Jeff Sieg said the company ceased operations as soon as the asbestos was discovered.

“Naturally occurring asbestos in the rock does not indicate unsafe levels in the air, and there are no indications that the employees or surrounding community were at risk,” he said.

A meeting between Hanson Aggregates, Pierson and the DEP is set for Friday to come up with a DEP-approved mitigation plan. Shader said the DEP is also looking into whether additional studies should be done to determine if asbestos is present elsewhere in the quarry.

The same day the DEP halted operations at the mine, it issued its approval for a 1,000-ton-per-hour mineral processing plant at the site.

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