A group of citizens has asked the Montgomery County Council to stop using rock from a local quarry for road construction because the rock may contain asbestos fibres in levels high enough to cause cancer.
Wearing makeshift facemasks and carrying signs with such slogans as, "I'm too young to die from asbestos in 20 to 30 years," about 50 persons made an unscheduled appearance before the council Tuesday and delivered a petition requesting that the rock not be used until the completion of studies being conducted by county, state and federal officials. The studies may not be finished until the end of the summer.
The petition also requests that roads paved with rock from the quarry be repaved or that other measures be taken to reduce the dust caused by wear and tear on the roads.
"None of us believes that the quarry is the problem," said Robert Harris, a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It is a situation where the dust is being created by vehicular traffic. When you breathe asbestos, there's no method of getting it out of your body," he added.
The council took no action on the petition but President John Menke promised that the issue will be examined. Council member Dickran Hovsepian said that point mentioned in the petition will be discussed today when he meets with the county's Department of Transportation on budget matters.
Council members said it was questionable whether the council would have the power to suspend the use of the rock because the Environmental Protection Agency has not established levels concerning the safety of asbestos.
Council member Elizabeth Scull said, "It would seem to me that the only thing that could justify that (the suspension) would be some proof that the dust was causing a health hazard."
James G. Topper, general manager of Rockville Crushed Stone Company, said he had no comment on the request for a suspension of the use of rock from the quarry. He said he had no idea what percentage of the firm's rock is used for such purposes, but he did say a suspension would pose a hardship for the firm.
Menke said county officials do not know what percentage of county roads were built with rocks from the quarry and chemical tests may be the only way that could be determined.
Asbestos became an issue in the county last September when Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, one of the nation's leading experts on the health hazards of asbestos, said significant levels of asbestos fibers have been found on leaves, dust and roadways in and near the quarry, which is located near the Rte. 28.
He said later that tests showed the level of cancer causing asbestos fibres near the mile and a half long quarry was 1,500 time greater than the higher previously reported levels in this country.
According to Selikoff, asbestos is one of the most potent cancer causing agents known. He said it causes mesothelioms, a lung cancer, in a person who work with asbestos and has been known to increase the risk of lung cancer in families of asbestos workers and people who live near asbestos plants.
According to experts, it takes 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos, for cancer to develop.