When state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) recently proposed legislation that would de-list serpentine as the state rock on grounds the mineral "contains asbestos, a known carcinogen," it raised hackles from the left and right.
For instance, the New York Times editorial board opined, "To our minds, Californians have other worries, starting with a crippled economy." Meanwhile, Becky Fenger of SonoranNews.com ("The conservative voice of Arizona") blogged, "Just when you think that the California State Assembly cannot top itself for legislative flatulence, they let fly with another doozey."
Now, the group that greased the legislative wheels to "drop the rock" is fighting back.
"You may have heard about the group of individuals who are trying to 'save the rock'--California's state rock of serpentine," begins a message that landed in the Clockwork inbox like a bag of stones from Douglas Larkin, director of communications with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. "Since when is a 'rock' worth more than a human life? 10,000 people in this country lose their lives to diseases caused by asbestos every year."
The ADAO should know, since it litigates cases for victims of asbestos--and wrote the language in SB 624, the bill Romero attached her name and reputation to (for a handsome contribution, no doubt).
Now, I must admit I did not even know California had a state rock, let alone that said rock was called serpentine, which I always associated with that classic Peter Falk-Alan Arkin scene in The In-Laws.
I shoulda paid more attention in my college geology class.
Serpentine is a shiny, smooth metamorphic rock that's formed under the ocean where tectonic plates collide, then are pushed upward. Geologists say it's found in 42 of California's 58 counties and was plentiful in areas where miners discovered gold. It's now used for carving and jewelry, and it has been the state rock since 1965.
Some (not all) of it contains asbestos, exposure to which can cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer that kills about 2,500 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"California has the highest incidents of mesothelioma deaths in the nation," Larkin informs. "Yet, a misguided group wants to continue to herald serpentine, a host rock for asbestos, as a laudable symbol. That rock was ONLY named as the state rock to recognize the once lucrative and now defunct asbestos industry in California. This is the same industry that has shamelessly taken lives. The World Health Organization, The Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S Surgeon General agree: asbestos is a carcinogen and there is no safe level of asbestos exposure."
His asbestos-hating group "was founded by two families who were both faced with the grim consequences of mesothelioma (how to spell it in Google was daunting enough). There was NO organization like ADAO then and we remain the only one of our kind; it is fully independent. It represents victims. And ADAO representatives travel across the globe to spread the word about asbestos dangers, fuel education and research and help families and individuals connect with important resources."
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. . . and throw rocks at serpentine, obviously.
"It is time for the truth to be told," fumes Larkin. "The faces of the victims should be etched forever in our minds, not a rock that symbolically represents their deaths."
You go, girl!
Too bad no one put as much time, effort and consideration into saving the grizzly bear on the California flag.