Dust in the wind costs quarry owner $25,000 | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dust in the wind costs quarry owner $25,000

The El Dorado County Air Pollution Control District has drawn a line in the gravel over dust emissions, slapping a $25,000 fine on a Placerville quarry owner who is allegedly kicking up too much dust.

The fine was levied against Loring Brunius, owner of the Sierra Rock quarry, which mines and crushes rock that is used for rural road bed construction and landscaping. A great majority of the rock processed by Sierra Rock is serpentine, which is found throughout northern California and is known to contain tremolite asbestos – a substance which is known to cause cancer.

County Environmental Management Director Jon Morgan, who doubles as the Air Pollution Control Chief, was quick to point out that the violation notice levied on Sierra Rock was not directly related to the ongoing county asbestos controversy.

“This fine is in response to a violation of the quarry’s air pollution control permit, and has to do with dust suppression,” Morgan said. “The quarry is doing far less with dust suppression than they should be doing.

“Yes, there are some certain levels of asbestos in the dust, and in the air. What percentage is in the air we don’t know. That’s not the basis of the action.”

Brunius had not returned phone calls by press time.

As part of the action, the county has threatened to take away the quarry’s operation license if the alleged violations are not remedied.

“They are not out of this yet,” Morgan said of Sierra Rock. “The fine was in response to an accumulation of milestones they did not meet. They still have to comply with the county guidelines, and they have not done so yet.”

According to the California Health and Safety Code, air emission violators are liable for civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day, and willful violators can be fined $50,000 per day. Sierra Rock has until Nov. 12 to schedule a hearing with Environmental Management to either dispute or settle its case.

Quarry dust is a sore subject in El Dorado County due to the asbestos issue. After a lengthy public debate last month, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors declined to lower permissible asbestos levels in rock and dust samples from 5 percent to 1 percent.

Asbestos, which is found in serpentine rock formations, contains fibrous tremolite, which are needlelike particles which at certain levels of exposure are associated with mesothelioma, an inoperable cancer of the membranes lining the lungs and chest.

Some county residents claim that prolonged exposure to this airborne serpentine dust, which is kicked up by local quarries as well as in construction activities, is a major health risk.

Asbestos has been classified as a cancer-causing carcinogen by the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Local citizens groups are currently exploring measures to get the 1 percent solution back on the county board agenda. In the meantime, CARB has announced plans to stiffen its regulatory procedures to possibly ban asbestos altogether in the county.

Environmental Management’s crackdown on Sierra Rock, however, is focusing on the dust itself, and not what particularly is in it. Violations can occur if a quarry or construction operation does not properly water down equipment and roads, and sends too much dust into neighboring communities.

Brunius has mined gravel at the Weber Creek site for nearly 25 years. He has maintained in the past that the serpentine rock mined in his quarry is not a health hazard.

The administrative action last week did not require public notice, and it is the first time the county has taken such action against the quarry.

“There have been complaints, however, for several years,” said Morgan, who has only recently taken over as environmental management director. “Why it has taken so long to take action, I don’t know.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User