A newspaper article has been making the rounds
about the sad situation in Libby, Montana, a touchstone of anti-asbestos activism. Here are a few reasons why it is irrelevant to the situation in California, where lawmakers are trying to undeclare serpentinite
as the state rock (see the previous post).
Libby was not the site of an asbestos mine, but a vermiculite mine. Huge amounts of finely ground mining waste were what endangered the population.
- The harmful mineral at Libby was a fibrous variety of tremolite, which has no industrial use as asbestos. It was a contaminant. The only reason it can be called "asbestos" is because its fine, needlelike particles fall under the EPA regulations for asbestos.
- The rock in Libby was not serpentinite.
- The most common mineral used for asbestos that occurs in serpentinite is chrysotile. Careful medical studies have not shown any substantial harm from chrysotile dust.
- Asbestos regulations do not distinguish between chrysotile and genuinely harmful minerals such as crocidolite and tremolite.
I don't expect you to accept this at face value; my facts are documented in a paper by Malcolm Ross and Robert Nolan
in GSA Special Paper 373, Ophiolite Concept and the Evolution of Geological Thought
. The proposed law in California ignores this science and makes a formal finding that was dictated by mesothelioma law firms. They would like to have the hammer of a law that encourages long lawsuits, armed with fear of the word "asbestos." All I have in opposition is the love of a fascinating rock type. UPDATE:
A post on the Looking for Detachment blog
is a handy link to a variety of posts about the serpentinite reclassification. It also notes the interests of a landowner in California.