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Down with serpentine; or, clueless in California 6 July 2010

Posted by admin in miscellaneous.

This is not volcanic, just ludicrous. The official State Rock of California is serpentine. The days of serpentine holding that honour may be numbered, however: State Senator Gloria Romero has decided that serpentine = asbestos = cancer and is demanding that California dump serpentine and ‘leave the state rock unspecified’, for ‘California should not designate a rock known to be toxic to the health of its residents as the state’s official rock’. To find out more go to Eruptions, where this nonsense is taken down with style by Dr Erik Klemetti.

(California was apparently the first American state to designate a State Rock. It also has a State Fish, State Flower, State Reptile, State Soil, etc, and perhaps a State Smell and State Hairstyle as well; Delaware has a State Macroinvertebrate, so anything’s possible.)

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1. Garry Hayes - 6 July 2010

More info from the geoblogosphere on this issue (it really isn’t just a diversion; there may be some real legal issues involved if the state passes the language in the bill, not to mention the educational loss):




It would be really nice if the state assembly and the governor could hear from some geologists, earth scientists, and mineral lovers. Asbestos-related diseases are a serious matter, but going after serpentine is wrong-headed. Serpentine is not asbestos, it is a mineral-rock that sometimes has an asbestiform habit.

2. Nishanta Rajakaruna - 10 July 2010

I am shocked at this ‘unnecessary’ attempt to de-throne serpentine as CA’s ‘state rock.’ My colleagues and I have dedicated our professional lives to study these rocks and the biological diversity that is generated and maintained in habitats overlying these rocks. Many of us have come to CA because of its SERPENTINE.

SERPENTINE is technically a group of minerals associated with a series of high iron and magnesium containing rocks, including SERPENTINITE and PERIDOTITE, found along continental margins and fault lines in CA and in other parts of the world. For all general purposes we use “SERPENTINE” to refer to all rocks containing this group of minerals (http://www.minerals.net/mineral/silicate/phyllo/serpenti/serpenti.htm).

SERPENTINITE (the rock) contributes much to CA’s plant diversity. Botanists, geologists, and soil scientists from around the world flock to California to study these amazing rock-based biological habitats. 1000s of scientific papers and more than a handful of books have focused on CA’s SERPENTINITES; none proving the ‘erroneous’ claim that CA SERPENTINITE contains harmful asbestos. SERPENTINITE outcrops in CA harbor 12.5% of CA’s endemic plants (i.e. plants found only in CA). This accounts for about 176+ species. It is a remarkably high number given that only 670 plant species are associated with SERPENTINITE in CA, a substrate covering less than 1.5% of the state. These plants provide numerous “teaching and research moments.”

Most SERPENTINITE contains little to no asbestiform chrysotile (of the ‘serpentine’ group of minerals) and does not pose any significant health risk in its natural state. The fact that chrysotile presents adverse health effects as a reason for removing SERPENTINITE as the state rock is as flawed as saying that the Ridge-nosed rattlesnake should be removed as the state reptile of Arizona as it is poisonous to humans. The grizzly bear is pretty hazardous to humans too so why is it the state animal? Perhaps because we have already killed it off? Also, do we not go outside because UV rays are harmful to our health? UV is clearly more harmful than exposure to CA’s SERPENTINITE which contains minimal amounts of chrysotile asbestos (short fiber), not the tremolite asbestos (long fiber), which is known to be harmful to health.

Danger is relative. As far as asbestos, it all depends on the asbestos type (chrysotile versus tremolite), exposure frequency, and exposure level. All three factors are very low in most SERPENTINITE landscapes around the world, particularly in CA.

There are essentially no documented cases of anybody having developed asbestosis or mesothelioma from the casual chrysotile asbestos exposures received from naturally-occurring chrysotile asbestos found in SERPENTINITE terrain. Practically all of the reported cases of mesothelioma are from long-term, industrial-level exposures in asbestos-containing facilities with poor ventilation. Further, it is the exposure to ‘tremolite’ asbestos NOT ‘chrysotile’ asbestos which is known to increase the risk of developing mesothelioma.

My colleagues and I urge that SERPENTINITE remain in place as the State Rock. It is part of our natural heritage, one that has served CA well.

Lastly, I think we can all agree that there is more to worry about these days than waste our time trying to de-throne a rock!

3. Garry Hayes - 10 July 2010

I hope you will contact the state assembly members and the governor of CA with your comments on the serpentine. We need all the voices we can get.

4. Nishanta Rajakaruna - 10 July 2010

I just wrote to the Governor and have asked all my colleagues to do so also. If there is an unified effort at the state level to fight this bill please get in touch with me so I can get the hundreds of serpentine ecologists to sign on. Cheers.

5. Shirley Hart - 15 July 2010

I am a non-scientist and a non-Californian, so the controversy over California’s state rock is really none of my business; however, I feel compelled to comment.
To a Texas redneck like me, it seems that at least one California State Senator, Gloria Romero (sounds like a stage name to me), has too much time on her hands. A more altruistic endeavour would be to enact legislation banning sunshine from California. There are about four times as many deaths, both locally and nationally, from melanoma as from mesothelioma.
Perhaps Senator Romero’s head could be designated the state rock. Just a thought.

6. Nishanta Rajakaruna - 16 July 2010

Shirley – thanks for your note. You don’t have to be a Californian or a scientist to see, like you have, how absurd this whole issue is!
Garry – is anyone heading a petition against this bill? I’ve had many inquiries. Other than writing to the governor what else can we do to stop a bill with absolutely no scientific backing? How hard is it to convince the lawmakers that the serpentine landscape with all its natural beauty, biotic and abiotic diversity is harmless and should be part of CA’s celebrated heritage!

7. Nishanta Rajakaruna - 16 July 2010

CA is the center for teaching and research surrounding life on serpentine rocks! Find below a list of all the books and major treatments to date of the unique nature of serpentine, here in CA and around the world. It is part of our heritage. We should celebrate it rather than push for policy based on bad science.

Look at the decades of science that has gone into showing how unique serpentine is and how lucky Californians are to have this rock as their state rock!

There is absolutely no science in any of the treatments below to back this claim that all serpentine in CA is toxic to human health.

Key books/articles on serpentine.

Alexander, E. A., Coleman R. G., Keeler-Wolf, T., and Harrison, S. (2006) Serpentine Geoecology
of Western North America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Baker, A. J. M., Proctor, J., and Reeves, R. D. (1992) The Vegetation of Ultramafic(Serpentine) Soils. Intercept, Andover, U.K.

Balkwill, K. (2001) Proceedings: Third international conference on serpentine ecology.
South African Journal of Science, 97 (special issue).

Boyd, R. S., Baker, A. J. M., and Proctor, J. (2004) Ultramafic Rocks: Their Soils, Vegetation,
and Fauna. Science Reviews, St. Albans, U.K.

Brooks, R. R. (1987) Serpentine and Its Vegetation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Chiarucci, A., and Baker, A. J. M. (2007) Proceedings of the fifth international conference
on serpentine ecology. Plant and Soil, 293 (special issue).

Harrison, S. P. and N. Rajakaruna (Eds.). 2010. Serpentine: Evolution and Ecology in a model System. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA . In press.

Jaffré, T., Reeves, R. D., and Becquer, T. (1997) Th e ecology of ultramafic and metalliferous
areas. Proceedings of the second international conference on serpentine ecology.ORSTOM Noumea, Documents Scientifi ques et Techniques III (special issue).

Kruckeberg, A. R. (1984) California Serpentines: Flora, Vegetation, Geology, Soils and Management Problems. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Kruckeberg, A. (2005) Geology and Plant Life. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Proctor, J., and Woodell, S. R. J. (1975) Th e ecology of serpentine soils. Advances in Ecological
Research, 9, 255–366.

Rajakaruna, N., and Boyd, R.(2009) Soil and biota of serpentine: A world view. Proceedings
of the Sixth International Conference on Serpentine Ecology. Northeastern Naturalist,
16 (special issue 5). Eaglehill Press, Steuben, ME.

Rajakaruna, N., Harris, T. B., and Alexander, E. B. (2009). Serpentine geoecology of eastern
North America: A review. Rhodora, 111, 21–108.

Roberts, B. A., and Proctor, J. (1992) Th e Ecology of Areas with Serpentinized Rocks: A World
View. Kluwer, Dordrecht.

SAFFORD, H. D., J. H. VIERS, AND S. P. HARRISION. 2005. Serpentine endemism in the California flora: A database of serpentine affinity. Madrono 52: 222–257.

Read, be informed, before supporting a bill that has no scientific basis!

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