Defrocking California’s Rock

Some California state legislators want to remove serpentine as the state rock of California and, according to the NYT, this has some geologists up in arms.

The bill to defrock the rock — which recently passed the full State Senate and is awaiting a vote in the Assembly — is sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, with the strong support of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

Declaring that serpentine “has known health effects,” the bill would leave California — one of roughly half the states in the nation with an official rock or mineral — without an official rock. (According to the bill, California was the first state, in 1965, to name an official rock.) Asbestos occurs naturally in many minerals, and indeed some serpentine rocks do serve as a host for chrysotile, a form of asbestos. But geologists say chrysotile is less harmful than some other forms of asbestos, and would be a danger — like scores of other rocks — only if a person were to breathe its dust repeatedly.

“There is no way anyone is going to get bothered by casual exposure to that kind of rock,” said Malcolm Ross, a geologist who retired from the United States Geological Survey in 1995. “Unless they were breaking it up with a sledgehammer year after year.”

Dr. Ross and other opponents of the bill are concerned that removing serpentine, which is occasionally used in jewelry, as the state’s rock would demonize it and thus inspire litigation against museums, property owners and other sites where the rocks sit; they cite the inclusion of a letter of support from the Consumer Attorneys of California with the bill as evidence.

Ron Bailey has more here.