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Natural deposits of asbestos halt work at a Pennsylvania quarry

Operations at Rockhill Quarry have been temporarily stopped due to community concerns about asbestos dust. The quarry, which first began operation in 1976, is located in East Rockhill Township, Pennsylvania.

In December 2018, regulators determined that the rock at the quarry contains natural deposits of asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made up of fibrous crystals. If asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can cause serious illnesses such as asbestosis or mesothelioma.

What is being done to protect area residents?

Although the quarry has been inactive for about 30 years, a new operator intends to mine, crush rock and run an asphalt plant on the site. If rocks are broken or crushed, they could release the asbestos particles into the air. Wind, clothing or machinery could spread the partials into the nearby residential community.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) issued a cessation order in December 2018. This order prohibits any mining, rock crushing, sizing or other quarrying activities until permission is granted to continue.

The quarry operator broke the cessation order by moving rock in February 2020, which led to a Notice of Violation. However, not all work must stop while the cessation order is in effect. The construction of a rock crusher and sampling activities are still allowed on site.

In February, the Bucks County commissioners submitted a letter to PA DEP that requested that the quarry be closed. As of March 5, the cessation order was still in effect, and PA DEP was still gathering the information needed to decide about the future of this site.

What can someone do if he or she has been exposed?

Asbestos in rock may not risk safety if it remains undisturbed. However, quarry workers or area residents who worry that they may have already inhaled asbestos can monitor their health by scheduling regular cancer screenings.

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets sick. If an illness does develop, symptoms may not appear until decades after the initial exposure. Regular screenings may help doctors identify a possible illness before symptoms develop, and an early diagnosis can improve someone's chance of recovery.

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