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Keeping Bucks County Green: Shutting Down Rockhill Quarry

The economic benefit of continued mining at the Rockhill Quarry is not worth the risk to the health of the residents, students, and any community that would receive the stone from the quarry, not to mention the damage to the local environment.

Environmentalists understand the fundamental truth that in our small corner of the universe, the wonder of life can only be supported on our small fragile planet. They know we have a responsibility, not only to our own species, but to other species, to ensure that the life-giving properties of our home planet are sustained. Their focus, ever since the first Earth Day in 1970, gave birth to the modern environmental movement, is both the education of the general public about the harm being done to our environment and creating a large cadre of activists who could affect significant change for environmental health and well-being. The environmental movement has grown over recent years to interface with international and indigenous organizations that champion strategies for preserving the health and well-being of our planet, often with innovative national and international funding schemes. It is a force to be reckoned with.

But the interests of corporations and government are sadly not often aligned to the fundamental existential truth that our planet must be nurtured so that life can continue to be sustained on the only nearby planet available for thriving living creatures. So some of us, in the face of corporate wealth and political power, succumb to cynicism and despair and feel the destruction of ecosystems and the deleterious effects of human-induced climate change are inevitable. But others are inspired to continue the good green fight.  

Activists know it is important to support national environmental organizations and causes, but also know it is equally important to fight the good green fight in our own backyards. Recently, a small group of ordinary citizens worked tirelessly to stop  a corporate plan to build a hazardous waste processing facility adjacent to our beautiful life-sustaining Delaware River. Initially there was political support for the ELCON project, but the forces of corporate wealth and political power did not deter ordinary citizens from working hard to protect their community, their environment and the health of their fellow-citizens. Through grassroots activity and persistence, they were able to stop the building of this ill-conceived facility and score a victory for Bucks County. Ordinary citizens were inspired to attend local government meetings, sign petitions, canvas door to door to ask for public support, lobby their elected officials, write editorials to local newspapers and inform local citizens on social media. After many years of persistent hard work, their efforts against corporate wealth and political power resulted in a great victory for the public welfare. This local Bucks County success should now inspire us to work toward more local victories.

The problem of asbestos in the Rockhill Quarry is yet another example of a grass roots success story. The Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance (REPA) was formed a few years ago in order to fight the re-opening and expansion of the Rockhill Quarry to include a processing center and an asphalt manufacturing concern. The quarry had been closed for decades. In the course of their challenge, testing was done and the presence of asbestos was discovered. REPA energized local citizen support and engaged local politicians on both sides of the political spectrum who amazingly joined forces and worked diligently together for the common public good. Through their efforts, many meetings were held and pressure was exerted on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) to issue deficiency notices to the quarry’s owning company, Heidelberg. The company failed to meet the required procedural requirements over a four year period despite six extensions of time to address them. Meanwhile REPA engaged an independent environmental consultant (EEC), Dr. Bradley Erskine, with extensive experience in the fields of mining and asbestos. (See the results of his ongoing  analysis on REPA’s website https://rockhillpa.org/ ) Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Health wrote a letter about the quarry that clearly states “NOA (naturally occurring asbestos) should be avoided and left alone.” People were warned that the simple act of running, hiking, and riding a bicycle at this location posed a health risk! Through their grassroots efforts, the Rockhill Quarry’s activity was suspended in 2020. 

One major concern is that there are over 11,000 students attending schools within a 5-mile radius of the Rockhill Quarry at risk for exposure. Many years ago, the area was not very developed, but now there has been extensive residential and retail commercial development which would be especially negatively impacted by the daily full-scale operation of a quarry. The nearby roads are country roads which are not capable of sustaining the kind of large truck traffic that would be occurring close to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The consensus at REPA is that the Rockhill Quarry should now be shut down permanently. Asbestos is a known toxic and deadly carcinogen and it is pervasive throughout the quarry. The economic benefit of continued mining at the Rockhill Quarry is not worth the risk to the health of the residents, students, and any community that would receive the stone from the quarry, not to mention the damage to the local environment.

Thankfully, the hard work of ordinary citizens was able to combat corporate interests and engage political support to win a temporary environmental victory for several years: the Rockhill Quarry remained closed and the threat of asbestos contamination to the community was averted. But the word on the street now is that a decision will be made by the PA-DEP in January whether or not to reopen the Rockhill Quarry for business.

So what can you do to keep Bucks County green? 

First of all, do not succumb to despair and cynicism. Your action, however small it may seem, can make a difference – especially when combined with the actions of your fellow-citizens. If you feel, based on the evidence in the REPA website https://rockhillpa.org/  that the Rockhill Quarry should be closed permanently, please contact Governor Josh Shapiro and let him know your concerns. Here is a link to the page that allows you to express your opinion to the governor: https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/

Or you can contact him by phone at 717-787-2500.

And below is also a sample message to send him.

Make your voice heard! And stay tuned to the Bucks County Beacon’s KEEPING BUCKS COUNTY GREEN articles for updates to this story and other Bucks County environmental issues of concern.

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SAMPLE MESSAGE:

I am concerned about the health risk that the Rockhill Quarry, located in East Rockhill Township, Bucks County, poses to the residents and more than 11,000 students who attend nearby schools. The Rockhill Quarry contains ASBESTOS.  I understand that your office has been made aware of this situation and I implore you to take swift action to protect your Commonwealth’s citizens by permanently closing this quarry!

This information is supported by Dr. Bradley Erskine’s reports on the quarry (https://rockhillpa.org/asbestos-update/), plus the Department of Health sent a letter on February 7, 2020, that clearly states, “NOA should be avoided and left alone.”  The letter even mentions how the simple act of running, hiking, and riding a bicycle at this location poses a health risk!

You have the ability and power to protect our community! SHUT DOWN the Rockhill Quarry PERMANENTLY!

I’d like to thank Sandi Hippauf and Sharon Furlong for their vital feedback and contributions to this article.

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Picture of Steve Cickay

Steve Cickay

Steve studied philosophy at the University of Chicago where he developed critical inquiry and writing skills that enriched all his endeavors in life. He moved with his family to Bucks County in 1985 attracted by the excellence of its public schools for his children. He spent his life in public service in the Departments of Army, Navy, Labor and Treasury in the information technology field. During retirement, he became more active in local politics as an independent activist, a Democratic Committeeperson, and a Democratic candidate for State Senate in 2014. Although he enjoys walking his rescued pitbull Hazel in the beautiful parks of Bucks County, biking and trying to run in his advancing years, his new role as a grandfather fills him with exquisite joy.

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