Speak up for serpentine

I am going to make a political plea to all California rock lovers: Contact your state assemblyperson to oppose Senate Bill 624. It would remove serpentine (serpentinite to geologists) as the California state rock. That’s bad enough, because serpentine rock is one of our most distinctive stones, responsible for soils and habitats with hundreds of unusual plant species. Oakland has a prime example at Serpentine Prairie, up in Redwood Regional Park.

serpentine prairie

Worse, it would remove the whole section of the state code about the state rock. California was the first state to enact a state rock, in 1965, and today 25 states have one. The bill’s proponents don’t even want an alternative rock, although we have several wonderful choices besides serpentine.


But the real purpose of the bill is its preamble, in which “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.” But serpentine is not deadly—mesothelioma is caused by years of constant, heavy exposure to powdered asbestos minerals in the air. In a word, mesothelioma is an industrial disease, not an environmental one. And the minerals that are implicated by rigorously controlled medical studies do not include chrysotile (see comment #5). So this law would turn a falsehood into an official legislative finding. It would force the Oakland Museum to change its exhibits. It would close all the state’s serpentine lands. It would affect property values in the Oakland Hills, like the Crestmont neighborhood.

crestmont serpentine

It would open Mountain View Cemetery to liability for this picturesque gravesite.

cemetery serpentine

It would force portions of Joaquin Miller Park, part of Oakland’s cultural heritage, to be covered up or fenced off.

joaquin miller serpentine

And it would prevent works of art like this suiseki stone, by Henry Van der Voort, from being exhibited in the Garden Center by the Northern California Suiseki Society. Do you think my predictions are silly? My response: With these legislators and today’s litigators?


I’m not alone. My most visible ally is Garry Hayes, a college professor in Modesto and past president of the National Association of Geology Teachers.

The bill is supposed to come up before the Assembly on August 2. Time is short, and our representatives think that this is a noncontroversial bill. Educate yourself and speak out.

7 Responses to “Speak up for serpentine”

  1. Nishanta Rajakaruna Says:

    And for those serpentinophiles who celebrate this rock…..come join us to talk ‘real’ science behind serpentine at the next international conference on serpentine ecology in Portugal June 2011

    Check out: http://www.ultramafic-ecology.org/

  2. Nishanta Rajakaruna Says:

    Now, what can we do to put a stop to this craziness? I am a botanist who studies plants which grow only on CA’s serpentine landscapes – about 13% of CA’s plants are found nowhere else in the world, only on the serpentine landscapes here in CA. My colleagues and I have written to the governor, Gloria Romero, and contributed to many blogs online but wondering what the best way is to say there is absolutely no scientific reasoning behind this push to strip serpentine off its status as state rock. Serpentine does not equal mesothelioma and I challenge those who are pushing this bill to show any evidence that anyone has developed mesothelioma from naturally-occurring serpentine landscapes here in CA! Most of my friends who have dedicated their lives to studying these landscapes (rocks, soils, plants, other critters) have lived very long lives! – many are still in their 90s!
    I know that’s besides the point, but seriously, there are NO studies showing short fiber chrysotile asbestos found in low levels in serpentine landscapes here in CA can cause mesothelioma! If we are seriously concerned about public health – let’s ban sunlight which causes more cancers than anything else natural out there!
    I can’t believe we are all wasting our time on an issue that should just be dropped so everyone can do what’s important to save the state!

  3. Andrew Says:

    I should say a little more about the medical studies, because no one wants to let down their guard about asbestos. The great majority of medical studies on asbestos have not used mineralogists; they simply get a group of people who worked in “asbestos” factories or mines and follow their health histories. But the studies that have taken care to specify the exact minerals involved all find the amphibole asbestos minerals to blame. None of those minerals are produced any more, although in places like Libby, Montana, they are a dangerous byproduct of other mining. Chrysotile, the serpentine mineral that dominates California, has not been shown to be any more dangerous than ordinary rock dust or other asbestos substitutes like glass wool. This is my source.

  4. PalMD Says:

    Serpentine, Shelly! Serpentine!

  5. Farmlady Says:

    This is so “California” and I’m so tired of this.
    Makes me want to move to another state….

  6. bj Says:

    assembly-folks contacted!

  7. Robert Says:

    Note to my assemblyman sent. I’m annoyed there’s no Facebook group for Serpentine that I can join!

    Thanks for all the great articles; I started reading your blog with the comments about the Sulfur Mine of Leona Heights, and have enjoyed all the postings since then!


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