Quarry workers have been warned their jobs are at risk after market conditions forced their kiln to close.
The unsettling news affects the 34 staff of Hanson Aggregates at Batts Combe Quarry in Cheddar when the site's lime kiln – used to superheat lime rock into quicklime dust vital to the steel industry – was shut down indefinitely for the first time in its 35 years of operation.
The closure comes after Corus steel works in Port Talbot considerably dropped its order for the device.
Quarry communications manager David Weeks said: "As a result of this, everyone on the site has been told their jobs are at risk – that's procedure. We don't want to get rid of anybody and find out in six months time we need to restart the kiln.
"We need general operatives mixed with supervisors so we are not getting rid of people we need or offering redundancy to people that we may need to keep.
"There are people happy to be made redundant, some may be looking to retire. But we can't talk numbers yet until our review ends at the end of the month and we have spoken to people individually."
The kiln, which must run 24-hours-a-day, was already shut down for maintenance when the decision was made to leave it off.
But news of its closure was welcomed by Cheddar resident Graham Burnell, who has spoken out in the past about lime dust coming from the kiln into the village.
"I'm delighted and I'm sure my neighbours are delighted too," he said.
"If the lime kiln was working efficiently and not causing pollution there would be no worries.
"But it's very old and worked well sometimes, but a lot of the time it's giving off a lot of pollution."
Speaking about the need to cut down their order, Corus spokesman Bob Jones said: "In the six months to the end of March our crude steel production in the UK and at our Dutch plant is down by 40 per cent.
"We don't comment on output at individual plants."
But Fowler and Son managing director Nigel Fowler, who has one truck that transports quicklime for the site, said impact from the kiln's closure may not be so great on the Cheddar Valley trucking industry.
"There are only a few trucks that carry the burnt lime," he said. "But the quarry still has a range of products like rock which needs hauling. The steel industry is possibly in no worse state than others during this recession."
Sedgemoor District Council deputy leader, Cllr Dawn Hill, was saddened to hear the news.
She said: "No-one wants to see it happen and it could come to trying to find an alternative for those skills there.
"Sedgemoor is trying to help people with the credit crunch and if something does happen we will do anything we can to help."
What do you think about the kiln closure and its impact on both jobs and the area? Write to The Editor, Cheddar Valley Gazette, Southover, Wells, BA5 1UH or email firstname.lastname@example.org.