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Should California's state rock be stripped of its title because it contains asbestos?

July 2, 2010 |  1:35 pm

Romero Imagine yourself in an Old West film, standing in the middle of a deserted street flanked with saloons, hotels and brothels, the soundtrack from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" wailing strong. At first you think you are alone with the tumbleweeds -- but then you see two figures facing down.

On the left is Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), suited up in leather chaps and a cowboy hat -- and on the right, the state rock of California -- serpentine.

Until recently, most people probably didn’t know that there was a state rock -- far less that Romero wants to get rid of it.

Senate Bill 624, which has been passed by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources but still has a long way to go in the Legislature, would strip serpentine of its state-rock title, held since 1965. Why? Because the rock "contains the deadly mineral chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of the cancer mesothelioma" and because "California should not designate a rock known to be toxic to the health of its residents as the state's official rock."

If you don’t know know what serpentine looks like, it looks like, well ... a rock. Shiny and smooth, it is typically green in color but can also be yellow, brown, gray or reddish brown. In natural environments, it can occur as large rock masses, but it also is commonly used for ornamental purposes in the form of cut and polished stone. 

Chosen as the state rock as a symbol of California’s mining prowess, serpentine was also the first rock in any state to be given this title.

Asbestos, a known carcinogen, poses health risks when small particles and mineral dust are inhaled, the fibers then lodging themselves in the membrane of the lungs. Mesothelioma, the most serious asbestos-caused condition, is a highly aggressive cancer. California has the highest rate of mesothelioma deaths in the nation, a fact that SB 624 also notes. 

So, how concerned should Californians be about their potentially carcinogenic state rock?

Not very, says John Rosenfeld, emeritus professor of geology at UCLA. According to Rosenfeld, SB 624 "is a bunch of bull." (This newspaper's editorial page also doesn't think much of this bid to change California's state rock, though it notes that some people with mesothelioma have taken up the cause.)

Of course, Rosenfeld said in an interview, people working with asbestos should wear masks and protect themselves from the mineral dust. But he goes on to explain that there are different types of asbestos, some of which are harmful, and others not. The green asbestos, chrysotile, is the least dangerous type, he says -- and, fortunately, the most common type of asbestos found in California serpentine.

"Serpentine is a very beautiful rock. Holding the rock is not a problem and it’s nothing you should be concerned about," he said. "It's part of the history of California, noticed by the early settlers of this state. It's a beautiful stone and shouldn't be removed."

If we're going to get rid of serpentine, do we have to get rid of our state gemstone, benitoite, found with it? And what should we have as our state rock instead? (Quartz? Maybe not -- the dust, when inhaled, can cause a condition called silicosis.) Or do we even need to find a replacement for it? After all, we still have our state mineral, gold, to stand proudly behind.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) wants California's state rock dumped. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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Comments (26)

The state's animal mascot is the grizzly bear. Those are kind of dangerous too if you get too close.

Doing a great job, Senator! There are plenty of problems in L.A. that need to be addressed. It's so great to watch you go above and beyond, providing solutions to the issues that really endanger our community.

Thanks for your dedication!

Serpentine is a beautiful State Rock, and did you know it is also the host mineral to some of the most rare wildflowers and other plants in California? If she really wanted to solve the problem of exposure, she'd regulate the human activity (development) that exposes people to asbestos. But no, she blames the rock. Did you know if you ingest enough California poppy seed, it's hallucinogenic? Or that it is toxic to dogs? Won't someone please think of our poor pets and 'Drop-py the Poppy!'
I hope no other members of the legislature hop on this failboat, because it's a sinker.

Please don't change the state rock!! My recently deceased father was a geologist/teacher. When I was a kid he would take me and my brother's out fossil and rock hunting.

If memory serves, he taught us that under geological types of pressure, heat, and time serpentine turns into jade and then into tiger eye. At least that's what I remember and I'm too lazy to look it up right now.

There is a huge outcropping of serpentine in the median on Hwy. 101 in Pismo,(it's all over SLO and Monterey counties--Jade Beach.) EVERY single time we drove by it, like clockwork, he would point at it and say, "Serpentine, Californias's state rock."

You want to know why CA is such a screwed up state? Look no further than morons like Gloria Romero...

1. Democrat
2. Elected by the fine upstanding people of Los Angeles

CA has become a caricature of itself.

We all know that the "Golden State" should change it's state rock to Pyrite - Fools Gold!

How about getting to work on some real problems Sen. Gloria Romero!

The state has monumental money issues and senators are worrying about a flipping rock. Kick them all to the curb!

This is absolutely ridiculous. Not only is the science on this proposal bad (or nonexistent - take your pick), but the attempt to rewrite state history to serve a lobbyist group is insulting. Any legislator who spends one minute of their time on this "issue" needs a lesson in priorities. If this is what they're doing in Sacramento, it's no surprise that the state is falling apart.

Come on! Why even think about doing that kind of legislation, there are thousands of problems worth solving, why even bother creating new ones that aren't... as mentioned in the article, nobody knows there's even a state rock... It won't hurt California's image to leave it be and save the state's money. Every minute someone spends on even looking at dumb propositions like this costs money. PLEASE if you have time to spare, choose other things to occupy it.

Here's a novel idea: How about our elected dunderheads do something worthwhile like work on a budget?

Is this politician an idiot? We still have a budget to fix and all she cares about is a state rock that no one even knew existed?

It's no wonder we're broke. Our legislature here is bankrupt for brains. Who cares if the rock that sits beneath most of the state is a source of another mineral? Who cares if it causes cancer when crushed and inhaled over many years? So will concrete! Who CARES?! So will activated charcoal, and THAT you can buy at the store.

You know, if you inhale Hydrogen Monoxide that will kill you too. So be careful and don't go near that stuff OK?

I could see this happening in the California Legislature in "good times" when everyone there is bored and has nothing else to do. But for all our sakes Legislature, go home and stay there until you see the real problems of this State. Or better, outlaw yourselves and leave.

surely California - verging on bankruptcy - has more pressing issues than a state

I applaud Gloria Romero in her efforts. The more time devoted to changing the state rock, the less time devoted to plundering the citizens of California. Go Gloria!

Maybe there shouldn't be a state rock. I mean, if they're big enough, and you get hit on the head with one, then you're a goner. They're all a menace to society and should be BANNED!!!!!

No wonder CA is in such bad shape. Their politicians spend their time worrying about rocks. Geez.

Since she's spending this time dealing with the state rock problem, surely that must mean they've already dealt with the big issues and eliminated crime, poverty, unemployment, and balanced the budget. Right?

California is going under and this is what the government is spending time doing. And even if everything was peaches and cream is THIS what government is for (to decide on a pet rock)? EVERY SINGLE ONE NEEDS TO BE VOTED OUT NOW and we should "hire" some good, honest people to work for us.

This is the most bloody ridiculous thing I've ever heard of! Who cares about an f-ing rock when California's in bankruptcy and the governator's proposing cutting state workers' pay to minimum wage!

This is terrifying stupidity, you poor people.

This rock is not unsafe unless you eat it, in my opinion, and I have been learning about rocks for 40 years. Is our state of California Senate so screwed up that this is what we do in our government? Give me a break Gloria Romero!
Rockhound from Monrovia

Doesn't California have enough on its plate?

OTOH, heeping the legislature busy debating this keeps them from doing more harm.

> We all know that the "Golden State" should change it's state rock to Pyrite - Fools Gold!

> Posted by: William Winter | July 05, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Bill Winter wins the thread!

Hey, I have a thought! Since Sen. Romero is so concerned about cancer, and the known carcinogens that cause it, why do we not ban air bags? The chemical used to inflate them- sodium azide- is also a known carcinogen. You are about as likely to contract cancer from handling an un-blown airbag as you are from picking up a rock, so it seems to me the danger is approximately the same. Surely the good Senator doesn't wish us to return to the days of steering wheels that could impale us, would she?

What y'all said!

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!!



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