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Andrew Alden

Serpentinite Under Attack, Part 2

By June 30, 2010

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serpentine rockLast week I wrote about an effort in the state legislature to remove serpentinite as California's state rock. The bill in question, Senate Bill 624, will also kill the entire category of state rock, even though California was the first state to declare one, in 1965. There are a couple of deplorable things about this.

1. It perpetrates an outright falsehood, and a potentially expensive one: "The Legislature finds and declares [that] Serpentine contains the deadly mineral chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of the cancer mesothelioma." As any geologist will testify, there is no such mineral as "chrysotile asbestos"; neither does serpentinite always contain chrysotile, which is not in itself asbestos. I use the word "testify" because a legislatural finding has legal weight, and the mesothelioma legal industry is both wealthy and running out of legitimate victims to make money from. The old cases of heavy industrial exposure to powdered asbestos are near extinction. New cases will have to come from the far more nebulous situations where people in or near areas of serpentinite will claim damages purely from fear of "asbestos." This is not at all unlikely. The legislature is about to make a mistake it will regret, and only the lawyers will benefit.

2. The state rock is a valuable tool among educators. For background, I can do no better than point you to Garry Hayes' post about serpentinite from last week. The unthinking rejection of the entire concept of a state rock will probably be waved about as an example of simplifying and reforming government. In fact, it is to wipe out one of our roots in the land and a source of state pride. Serpentinite is more than just a rock: it's an entire habitat and a distinctive biome.

As of now, the state senate will undoubtedly pass bill 624 soon, but it still needs to pass the state assembly and be signed by the governor. Surely geologists, landowners and government land agencies have a dog in this fight. I think the people of California do too. For example, see a landowner's viewpoint at the Looking for Detachment blog.

About serpentinite
About asbestos
The beauty of serpentinite
Chrysotile closeup
Official state rocks
Serpentinite — Geology Guide photo


June 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm
(1) Eric Logan says:

Serpentinite is ubiquitous in California, which illustrates something fundamental about the geology of the state. The rock is neither good nor bad. It’s part of nature.
However, you did write this, Andrew:
“Among the minerals found in metamorphic rocks is chrysotile, the most common and most benign asbestos mineral.”

June 30, 2010 at 7:10 pm
(2) Drew says:

We certainly do have a dog in this fight, but it is a weak one. The State has already wiped out the Board of Registration for Geologists and Geophysicists. What little additional significance could be found in abolishing the State Rock? These folks in Sacramento are trying to make the evening news; that is all they strive for. We’ve been swept under the rug, the lawyers get richer, and the people of the State foot most of the bill. A done deal.

June 30, 2010 at 8:11 pm
(3) Geology Guide says:

Eric, chrysotile occurring in metamorphic rocks is not powdered, airborne industrial asbestos. At most, it’s a slight contaminant in weathered rocks whose cancer risk is unmeasurably small.

June 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm
(4) GoatRider says:

Don’t they have anything better to do?

July 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm
(5) Eric Logan says:

I agree with almost everything you’ve written on this issue, except that a couple of different phrases don’t seem to jive. In this thread you wrote: “…there is no such mineral as “chrysotile asbestos”; neither does serpentinite always contain chrysotile, which is not in itself asbestos.” But in a previous thread you wrote: “White asbestos is the mineral chrysotile. This is the only asbestos mineral that occurs strictly as fibers, and the only one in the serpentine group.”
Question: ‘Is any form of crysotile not asbestos?’
I apologize if I seem argumentative. With my remedial level geological knowledge, I shouldn’t be thinking about nuances. I do look frequently at serpentinite and associated rocks, I find them interesting. and I want to understand more.

July 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm
(6) Geology Guide says:

Eric, asbestos is not a mineral. It’s a form of certain minerals. Geologists may use “asbestos” for brevity when they mean “the asbestiform variety of X mineral.” Chrysotile is exclusively asbestiform, unlike the other minerals from which asbestos may be made. But none of the minerals used as asbestos become industrial, EPA-regulated, medically problematic asbestos until they are rendered into inhalable splinter-shaped microparticles. Once they do, some are quite deadly. Chrysotile asbestos, in fact, is not, according to numerous rigorous studies cited by Ross and Nolan in GSA Special Paper 373. Don’t apologize; this is hard to discuss without a lot of advance groundwork. The senate bill ignores all that.

July 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm
(7) Eric Logan says:

Crystal clear!

July 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm
(8) Geology Guide says:

Maybe a simpler way to view the problem I have is this: the state wants to declare, “Fields of grain contain deadly flour, which can suffocate little babies.”

July 5, 2010 at 2:22 am
(9) zane de arakal says:

cop out, name the state rock “granite”. There is a lot of Mesozoic granite in this state, particularly in the Sierras. And most laypersons know what granite looks like.

July 5, 2010 at 3:08 am
(10) Garry Hayes says:

It’s interesting that your post had ad sponsors: a mesothelioma lawyer looking for cases, and an asbestos remediation firm…

July 5, 2010 at 6:21 am
(11) Hermann Tittley says:

Are Californians throwing out their eskimo carvings?

July 5, 2010 at 10:44 am
(12) Glenn says:

Changing the state rock to granite because everyone knows what granite is defeats a very meaningful purpose of a state rock- education. Just another step in the dumbing down of America. And furthermore, I’d bet a bag of doughnuts most people don’t know or couldn’t ID granite…..

July 5, 2010 at 11:49 am
(13) Silver Fox says:

Besides, if changing the rock to some Sierran-related intrusive rock, it should be quartz monzonite, not granite. (Which would be more of a teaching opportunity that granite, but is not needed.)

July 5, 2010 at 11:53 am
(14) Clarence Cullimore Mercer says:

I would think that if the California Legislature wants a state rock it should be gold bearing quartz not serpentine. Nonetheless, if the legislature uses the motivation of danger to public health, perhaps they should dig up all the oleanders along state highways (I wouldn’t want to crash into one), and ban the outdoor charcoaling of meat (a proven carcinogen). Though I can’t recall reading about proto-Native American remains showing death by cancer. I have helped dig up fire-lenses over 5000 years old associated with animal greases which suggests that they were barbecuing or smoking meat.

July 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm
(15) Frank G. Andrews says:

When Halliburton or BP receives a No-bid No-fault, State Contract to remove all Serpentinite exposure from the State of California, this should make a lot more sense.

July 5, 2010 at 10:24 pm
(16) ken Rogers says:

Friday, I went to the International Gem & Jewelry Show, in Pasadena, CA. I found it quite interesting that many vendors had “Zebra Jasper”. A grayish stone with Zebra like stripes of chatoyant silver fibers. What was more interesting was, a vendor, or two labeled this stone, “Chrysolite”.

Clarence, mentions the danger of oleander, and i agree. What about all of the Castor plants, (considered to be the world’s most poisonous) as their seeds are the source of Ricin & RCA, both explicitly prohibited by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. BTW – as a kid, I found that a castor plant in your yard, will keep gophers away.

So, we have all of these dangers around us, but some group is pushing politicians to scare everyone about a stone, and that can help them to close our collecting areas.

July 6, 2010 at 7:52 am
(17) Scrap5000 says:

From guns to rocks, these assinine politicians who know nothing about anything try to regulate it all so they can get in the news. They have their heads so far up the media’s rectums (and vice versa) that I am simply disgusted by the words “politician” and “journalist”.

Our forefathers would have tarred and feathered them all!!!

July 16, 2010 at 2:14 am
(18) Terry says:

I am a biologist and a research biochemist specializing in natural occurring (NOA) “asbestos” in California. The legislature is a day late (meaning decades late) and a dollar short (meaning, well more) and working on the complete wrong subject. ADAO is not intentionally misleading, but they as a group are misleading. Natural occurring forms of asbestos occur in all states in the ground from soft friable easily airborne to hard rock hard to blow up with dynamite. In California communities have lived on all forms of natural occurring Chrysotile “asbestos” for well over 200 years. Intensive studies of death certificates shows no excess lung cancer or any excess mesothelioma at Chrysotile sites at all. San Francisco is the most contaminated Chrysotile city on earth. Yet small communities in California, inside El Dorado, Amador, Toulomne, who have lived on Tremolite asbestos deposits for only short periods, show large quantities of excess mesothelioma. Not just in humans but in animals too. Huge levels of death from a non serpentine NOA. This news regarding Tremolite was published in the newspapers, mostly front page news, in Sacramento for 8 years straight! What do the legislators do? Why they OK “asbestos” epidemics by refusing to address the problem, and they condemn the innocent serpentine rock without even realizing what they are doing. For those who don’t know, this exact same subject has nearly killed entire communities in the United States. Groups such as ADAO focusing on Chrysotile “asbestos” to the exclusion of the far more dangerous forms of “asbestos” have lead to the communities of Libby Montana and Jefferson Parish Louisiana having enormous non serpentine epidemics of human death. The legislators could actually do something useful here, but not while they are mislead by non scientists such as ADAO.

Let’s make fibrous Tremolite our State Rock!!

July 17, 2010 at 10:06 am
(19) Di says:

Maybe we should outlaw drilling for oil,while we’re at it.Look at the Gulf!Think thats going to happen?It all boils down to money.The lawyers see an easy way to get money and there they all are,hands in our pockets,again.Ignorance is’nt always bliss.It’s laughable the extent that some will go to get in the media,pick on a relatively benign rock and let the big oil company do what it will with the environment.

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