Defending Rockhill

If you are the Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill, Pa., you have to wonder what a business has to do to make a little stone around here.

The quarry – owned by Lehigh Hanson, a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement, and operated by Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp.  – sparked controversy in the local community last year when it restarted full operations for the first time since the early 1980s.

Nearby residents articulated the usual list of complaints: noise and drinking water pollution, truck traffic and environmental degradation. Despite that, the quarry was granted a permit to operate.

Additional positive news came the operation’s way last month when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced approval for the construction of a new rock-crushing plant at the site. The company was informed the plant could be constructed immediately, with full operation pending a change to quarry’s permit. That meant ramping up to 1,000 tph, and production of up to 800,000 tons a year. 

But that good news was immediately tempered by the discovery of asbestos at the quarry. Yes, asbestos. That is when the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan.

The DEP ordered all mining, rock crushing and sizing, and other related activities at the quarry to cease.

Indeed, asbestos was discovered in unprocessed rock. But let’s be honest here. That does not mean that there are unsafe levels in the air. This is not the same as finding asbestos in an old building, where friable fibers have a good chance of ending up in someone’s lungs. The community, quite simply, is not at risk here.

And it didn’t take long for the politicos to get in on the act. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. (R-District 8) of Middletown, wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf requesting that “Any redevelopment of the Rockhill Quarry be suspended until a more thorough environmental review of the site can be conducted.”

The DEP’s order to close the quarry is an over-reaction. Pierson has a $224 million contract with the Pennsylvania Turnpike to use the rock to improve our roads and bridges. Let the work proceed.

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