Archive for July, 2010

My serpentine letter – Updated

28 July 2010

I’ve just mailed the following letter to Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, who represents Oakland in Sacramento:

“Dear Assemblymember Skinner,

“I write in opposition to Senate Bill 624, which removes serpentine as the state rock and removes the category of state rock itself from the State Code.

“Serpentine, or as geologists know it, serpentinite, is a signature stone of California, found in most parts of the state. The reasons for its widespread distribution here are deep clues to the structure and behavior of the Earth’s crust and underlying mantle. That is to say, serpentine is a protagonist in the story of modern geology. It gives California students of Earth science at all levels, from primary grades through postgraduate studies, a handle for learning concepts as well as practicalities.

“The concepts embodied by serpentine are the joy of geologists: tectonic interactions of continents and oceans, chemical transformations of deep-seated rocks, the lubrication of earthquake faults, the rise of mineral-bearing fluids into lodes and bonanzas.

“The practicalities embodied by serpentine are relevant to many classes of citizens: Serpentine ground requires special care on the part of builders. Serpentine soil supports a set of distinctively Californian plant and animal communities. Serpentine minerals include the fibrous chrysotile, used since ancient times for fireproofing applications and mined in California during most of the 20th century. Serpentine bodies are associated with valuable mineral deposits including chromium, jade and gold (California’s state mineral).

“The familiar blue-green, shiny serpentine seen in hundreds of roadcuts is a striking remembrancer of those school lessons. The legislature was wise to make serpentine the face of California’s rocks and landscapes. The legislature was bold to make that designation in 1965, when no other American state had ever chosen a lithologic emblem.

“SB624 undoes that wisdom and unmakes that boldness for unscientific and fear-based reasons. It is unscientific in declaring that serpentine causes cancer when, in fact, only a small fraction of serpentine contains the mineral chrysotile. And only in industrial settings, in which large amounts of the powdered mineral were inhaled for years by WWII-era workers, is that one mineral linked to lung disease. SB624 is a profoundly misinformed bill.

“The result of this bill’s becoming law will be to deaden our children’s education, increase their fear of the outdoors, and open all kinds of benign land uses to mischievous litigation. Please assure me that SB624 will not get your vote.”

We’ll see what happens next week.

UPDATE: Rep. Skinner replied with a generic letter. The bill entered the maelstrom of late-session maneuvers, during which the sponsor deleted everything but a single sentence removing serpentine as the state rock, without the noisome preamble. This would have allowed her to declare victory, but for stealth reasons. In any case, the bill was shunted to the Rules Committee, where it died with the end of the session last week. But now I guess I’ll have to watch for its successor in future years.

At home with serpentine

27 July 2010

I often come upon serpentinite in people’s yards, but this home on Perkins Street really used it to advantage—or maybe the owners painted the house to match the stone.


Naturally the notorious poverty of serpentine soils is not a hazard when serpentinite is used decoratively, nor is there any exposure to fibrous dust that might be classified as EPA-labeled asbestos. Are you listening, Gloria Romero?


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