California Legislature Considers Throwing Out State "Rock"

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Between a rock and a ….

Never mind the Golden State's imminent fiscal meltdown and the nation's third highest unemployment rate, the folks in Sacramento clearly don't have enough to do. As evidence, consider Senate Bill 624. This bill would lift the designation of "state rock" from the mineral serpentine. As the Monterey County Herald reports, the ostensible reason for demoting serpentine to a just an ordinary rock is that it sometimes contains asbestos:

[State Sen. Gloria] Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, says [the bill SB 624] aimed at "raising awareness to protect the health of our citizens. Serpentine contains asbestos, a known carcinogen. Toxic materials have no place serving as emblems for the state."

The Herald, however, notes that geologists are rallying to the defense of the mineral: 

The problem with SB 624 is that it flatly equates serpentine with deadly asbestos, even though geologists say that's incorrect. Geology websites have been buzzing with the criticism, pointing out that while serpentine rocks may contain chrysotile, most do not.

"It occurs in serpentine, sometimes," says Garry Hayes, a Modesto Junior College geology teacher and former regional president of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

So who would want to demonize magnesium iron silicate hydroxide? The trial lawyers, that's who. The language in the bill was provided by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, an anti-asbestos group whose major sponsors are law firms specializing in asbestos litigation. The Herald concludes:

Were SB 624 to become law, declaring serpentine as carcinogenic, it could widen the opportunities for lawsuits against owners of property with naturally occurring outcroppings of serpentine. And it's become a new skirmish in the perennial war between personal injury lawyers and the business-backed Civil Justice Association of California.

"I've heard that personal injury lawyers will leave no stone unturned in their hunt for new cases, but this is ridiculous," says John Sullivan, the association's president.

California: The Laughingstock State.

Note: Defenders of serpentine have used the hashtag #CAserpentine to rally support for the state rock and inform the public debate.