The Incontrovertible Facts about SB 624

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Much has been said about SB 624, the recent effort to rescind the designation of Serpentine as the California state rock. 

Here are the facts:

According to the AB 265 bill Memorandum dated April 16, 1965, Serpentine was designated as the state rock precisely because of its relationship to the asbestos mining industry in California.  To quote DeWitt Nelson, Director of the CA Dept of Conservation at the time in a letter to Governor Edmond G. (Pat) Brown urging his approval:

“Although serpentine is not unique to California, it is by no means widely distributed elsewhere; and in many states does not exist at all. Serpentine indirectly is of great economic importance to California. It is a host rock for the state’s newest and most rapidly–growing mineral industry — asbestos, now bringing in several millions of dollars annually. (emphasis mine) It is an attractive rock, selected varieties of serpentine make good cutting material and is used for bookends, paper weights, etc. Designating serpentine as the state rock will increase the market for such items and improve the local economy in a number of places.”

In 2002, the Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey stated “Serpentine often contains some asbestos. Exposure to asbestos fibers has potential human-health consequences. Therefore, the Air Resources Board restricts its use as unpaved road surface material.”

So while geologists, teachers and mineral business owners may disagree with one another about the danger posed by the asbestos in serpentine, there is no doubt that serpentine was designated the state rock in order to promote asbestos mining forty-five years ago.

Similarly, there is no doubt that asbestos mining and use contributes to the deaths of hundreds of thousands workers and their families around the world. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The World Health Organization, and the U.S. Surgeon General agree, asbestos is a known carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure. 

This educational and symbolic initiative was not designed to address Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA); however, through opposition, this remains actively discussed without referencing Federal reports and published scientific peer reviewed papers.  The California Geological Survey (CGS), in a joint project with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), published the California Geological Survey Geologic Special Report 189, describing a pilot project to test remote sensing technology in the mapping of rocks that may contain naturally occurring asbestos.

The controversy about SB 624 has raised asbestos awareness, but also been an embarrassment for California.   The rock was chosen to promote asbestos mining, now eliminated in California due to its unprecedented danger to workers’ health.  The designation of serpentine as state rock should be similarly eliminated, to close this chapter in California’s history.

On behalf of  the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) , The John McNamara Foundation and the Pacific Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, we encourage you to contact your Assembly Member this week and ask them to support SB 624, to remove Serpentine as our office state rock.

In unity,

Linda Reinstein

ADAO SB 624 Federal Reports and Peer Reviewed Papers