Save serpentine

The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a treasure in the Berkeley Hills that I visit several times a year. For 70 years it has assembled native plants from all corners of California and grows them all in one place. If you’ve spent time in the wilds anywhere in the state, you will come here and get the uncanny sense of being there again. Likewise, if you come here often, you’ll recognize its plants when you travel.

The visitors’ center has a very nice exhibit about California’s current state rock, serpentine (or as geologists call it, serpentinite).

botanic garden serpentinite

I understand that state Senate Bill 624 will come before the Assembly on August 2 (although I can’t find an official source for that). SB624 kills serpentine as the state rock. It removes the entire state code about state rocks (don’t believe claims that it will “swap the rock”). Moreover, it kills serpentine with prejudice, declaring that the stone “contains the deadly mineral chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of the cancer mesothelioma.” It further states that “California should not designate a rock known to be toxic to the health of its residents as the state’s official rock.” Well, geologists will tell you that most serpentine does not contain chrysotile, that chrysotile is not asbestos, and that the rock is not known to be toxic to the health of its residents. Health experts will tell you that careful studies show a very, very slight risk from environmental asbestos exposure, a risk so small that it’s academic.

That’s not a good enough reason to dethrone serpentine. A state law declaring these falsehoods to be fact could be useful for nuisance lawsuits, however, even though the proponents swear it’s only about asbestos awareness. I’m sure they’re sincere; this isn’t about intention, but consequences. In fact, asbestos education is a good reason—another good reason—to keep serpentine on the throne.

So far there has been publicity, some newspaper editorials, a radio bit or two and lots of blog postings, nearly all against SB624 and for serpentine. But state Assembly members aren’t responding, and I fear that they’ll vote for this bill out of lazy chumminess. This, then, is the week for people to contact their assemblymember. A paper, mailed letter is best, a phone call second-best, email better than nothing. Those of you on Twitter can follow developments through the hashtag #CAserpentine. All that means is, put “#CAserpentine” in the search box. I’ve posted about it before, and this will be the last time, I hope. I would rather write about timeless things. Please help, this week.

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2 Responses to “Save serpentine”

  1. RJS Says:

    I just contacted my state senator. Thanks for explaining the bad science behind this bill.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Thanks. If the Assembly passes SB624, it will go back to the Senate because when they passed it last year, it was about defining municipal compost—a common gut-and-switch tactic for stealth bills. Please contact your Assemblymember this week, though, because that’s where the bill is now.

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