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My letter opposing SB 624: Serpentin(it)e

July 29, 2010

I wrote this letter to Mariko Yamada, the Assemblymember whose district covers Davis, CA.  I tried to address the multiple issues that bother me about the bill and included information that she might feel was relevant to decision-making. I clearly didn’t focus on tectonic origins (I’m a hydrogeologist). Some of you will see information that you (you!) posted on your blogs.

Dear Assemblymember Yamada,

I am writing to express my opposition to SB 624, the bill to remove serpentine as the official state rock. I was surprised to learn recently that this bill had already passed the State Senate because I initially believed it to be a joke. With the serious issues that California state legislators face at this time, not the least of which is another unresolved budget, I am appalled that representatives are spending time and energy on legislation that not only has no tangible benefit to the residents of California but also contains misinformation. California is known nationwide for its public education, but SB 624 flies in the face of scientific knowledge, and has become an embarrassing sidebar in national media outlets (e.g., The New York Times, “California May Drop Its Official State Rock,“ July 13, 2010).

SB 624 is patently inaccurate in promoting the notion that simply being in contact with serpentine, known to geologists as serpentinite, will result in cancer: “Serpentine contains the deadly mineral chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of the cancer mesothelioma.” In truth, the serpentine mineral group contains 20 different minerals; only one of these minerals, chrysotile, occurs in the asbestos form.

Let me be clear: in no way does my opposition to SB 624 deny the pain and suffering of mesothelioma victims. I understand that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos; however, I also understand that a direct link between chrysotile asbestos and mesothelioma has not been established (Yarborough, C.M., 2006, Chrysotile as a cause of mesothelioma: an assessment based on epidemiology, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Vol. 36, No. 2, p 165-187). No matter the specific cause, asbestos fibers can only cause cancer if they are extracted from their natural environment, ground and inhaled. Instead of taking the opportunity to educate the public about asbestos, serpentine, mining and public health, SB 624 promotes scientifically inaccurate and indefensible statements about serpentine.

Through my opposition to this bill, I have discussed serpentine with several geologists and educators around the state and beyond. I have learned that California has serpentine grasslands that support unique ecosystems, which some of my fellow UC Davis graduate students are studying. I have learned that serpentine is present in 42 of the state’s 58 counties. I have learned about hiking trails, polished serpentine jewelry and mining geology. I believe that these qualities are valuable, not “toxic,” to California.

I am also concerned, perhaps unnecessarily, that the original language of the bill appears to address anaerobic digestion, or composting.  That language was wholly scrapped after the State Senate passed the bill. This action seems underhanded.

Serpentine represents the history of California: geological, industrial and ecological.  It is an appropriate symbol precisely because all of these aspect tell a story unique to our state. Please oppose SB 624 and encourage your colleagues to join you. Thank you.

Katharine North
Davis, California

Thanks to Garry Hayes (@geotripper), Andrew Alden(@aboutgeology), Jon Christensen (@westcenter),  @sfoxx, and Chris Rowan (@allochthonous). Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone; apologies if I did.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 12:21 am


    P.S. Check your spelling of Garry Hayes’ last name in the Thanks.

  2. July 30, 2010 1:28 am

    Silly me. I also forgot to thank Ron Schott (@rschott). Thanks Ron!

  3. July 30, 2010 1:35 am

    Welcome to the world of blogging! And remember: you’re totally not addicted. You can quit any time.

  4. July 30, 2010 1:40 am

    I fixed Garry’s last name too. Sorry Garry!

  5. July 30, 2010 1:44 am

    It’s a great start! And the comments seem to be taking care of themselves. Now you can spend all your time finding widgets and adding links here and there (but only if you want to, of course!). And Chris Clarke is right.

  6. July 30, 2010 2:33 pm

    Great letter and great new blog. I love WordPress – I run my own install as well as a couple of free ones. So, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Welcome!

  7. July 30, 2010 4:30 pm

    Great job! I hope to see more good stuff in the future!

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