Swap the State Rock: Deadly Serpentine Asbestos Ore

In 1965, in order to promote the asbestos industry in California, Governor Edmund Brown and the Senate Assembly unanimously approved AB 265 providing that serpentine become the state rock of California. Serpentine commonly contains chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogen listed by the EPA and a mineral that has indiscriminately claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people every year in the United States, and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Asbestos has been called the worst public health crisis in the history of this country.

Below is a copy of a letter sent from the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute to representatives of the State of California.


mesothelioma asbestos
TEL: (310) 622-4960
FAX: (310) 231-2131


August 28, 2007


RE: Swap the State Rock: Deadly Serpentine Asbestos Ore

Dear :

I am writing to request your support for an important matter that affects the public health and the public image of our state: the state rock serpentine.

The state rock of California is lethal. Serpentine is a form of asbestos ore. Asbestos is notorious for indiscriminately killing tens of thousands of people every year without regard to the color of their skin, their social or economic standing, sex, age, occupation, or health.

Asbestos has been called the worst public health crisis in the history of this country. The World Health Organization estimates that every year over 100,000 people die worldwide from asbestos cancers.[1] In the US, it is estimated that 10,000 Americans die every year from asbestos-related diseases.[2]

The asbestos public health epidemic has hit Californians especially hard, in part because of the number of shipyards, refineries, manufacturing plants, and former asbestos mines in our state. California has suffered the most asbestos-related deaths of any other state.[3]

The state of California leads the nation in asbestosis and mesothelioma deaths. Beginning in 1979, when asbestos-related deaths were first tracked, until the end of 2007, the total number of mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths in California will exceed 7,600.[4] Staggeringly, Los Angeles County alone leads all of America in deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma by a wide margin.[5] The most recent statistics from 2001 show at least 914 people in Los Angeles have died from excruciating, terminal, asbestos-caused cancers.[6]

Our state rock symbolizes a public health catastrophe, particularly since the companies that made and sold asbestos-containing products knew of its deadly consequences. We refuse to accept the mockery of Californian men, women, and children dying from asbestos poisoning. We ask you to support legislation to get rid of this pernicious state symbol.

Changing our state rock will display leadership and vision as we take the callousness, corruption, and greed that led to the asbestos crisis and replace it with hope, progressive vision, and a commitment to public health for all Californians.

California has always led the way on environmental issues of practical and symbolic value. Replacing toxic asbestos ore as our state rock with something environmentally friendly and conducive to human health is as crucial as it is easily achievable. Your support on this issue will make a clear statement of your commitment to our health and environment. It will incur no added cost to the state, and will display leadership and vision.

Serpentine Has No Commercial Value to California

Serpentine's primary commercial value to the state was as an asbestos ore from which chrysotile asbestos could be mined. When State Senator Luther Gibson of Solano County and Assemblyman Pearce Young of Napa introduced the bill that became law in 1965, serpentine was chosen to show the importance of asbestos to the California economy.[7] More specifically, it was chosen to promote the mining and commercial uses of asbestos.[8]

Asbestos mining no longer exists in California. To the contrary, this "promising industry" has helped injure and kill thousands of Californians, robbing our state of our greatest economic engine - our people.

Asbestos has left the state with abandoned asbestos mines that are now major Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites.[9] Millions of taxpayer dollars have been consumed by abating asbestos from our schools and public buildings.

Billions have been spent treating uninsured or under-insured Californians for asbestos poisoning. Millions of exposed Californians live with the justifiable fear of contracting cancer from this insidious rock. The presence of asbestos drives property values down. Potential asbestos liability can force a business into bankruptcy.

Serpentine Endangers the Health of Californians

Chrysotile asbestos, extracted from serpentine, has been listed by the EPA as a carcinogen.[10] California has banned or strictly regulated asbestos in homes, schools, and in the workplace.[11] When disturbed by normal activities such as walking, naturally occurring serpentine sheds airborne asbestos fibers that drift into school playgrounds, parks, and neighborhoods. In El Dorado Hills, the EPA is paving dirt roads and covering bare soil at Oak Ridge High School to prevent asbestos in the soil from becoming airborne, where it can be inhaled and lodged into lungs like tiny time bombs.[12]

Scientists have known for decades that there is no safe cancer threshold for exposure to asbestos and that even "a little dab can do you in." Sadly, this fact was well known in 1965, the year the powerful asbestos lobby persuaded California to make asbestos our state rock.

California's State Rock Should be Accessible to All

Due to its toxic threat to human health, California's state rock cannot be brought into classrooms for study and observation by students. Since serpentine is an asbestos ore, Californians cannot effectively learn about or appreciate their state's natural history and heritage without being exposed to serious health risks (unless they're wearing government certified "moon suits" for protection).

Alternative State Rocks

There are numerous alternatives to poisonous asbestos as our state rock: quartzite, California jade, basalt, or beautiful beach sand would be an effective and attractive symbol for our state.

It's difficult to imagine any principled opposition to removing asbestos as California's state rock. The only opposition would likely come from the very companies who are responsible for the public health epidemic in the first place. Even today asbestos defendants argue that chrysotile asbestos is safe, and that "they didn't know" it was toxic when they sold it. As evidence, they cite to the fact that a progressive state like California designated asbestos ore as our state rock.

It was wrong in 1965 for California to choose a toxic killer as our state rock. Forty-two years later, it's unconscionable.

I would like to meet with you regarding this initiative. We have the support of asbestos cancer survivors and their families, labor unions, navy veterans, cancer research institutes, educators, asbestos advocacy groups, environmental protection organizations, doctors, lawyers, and thousands of occupationally exposed Californians. Please view our online petition at www.phlbi.org.

Attached please find a fact sheet on the dangers of asbestos and the legislative history behind the current misguided law. Let's drop asbestos ore as our state rock now.


Roger G. Worthington, Esq.

Robert B. Cameron, M.D.


Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board

Pacific Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute

Pacific Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute


[1] L. Kazan-Allen Asbestos and mesothelioma: Worldwide trends Lung Cancer Volume 49, Supplement 1, July 2005, Pages S3-S8, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?

[2] Environmental Working Group, March 4, 2004, http://www.ewg.org/node/15977

[3] Environmental Working Group, April 18, 2004, http://www.ewg.org/node/16091

[4] Environmental Working Group, Deaths from asbestos diseases are increasing, Projection http://reports.ewg.org/reports/asbestos/facts/fact1.php

[5] Environmental Working Group, Top 100 U.S. Counties for asbestos death, http://reports.ewg.org/reports/asbestos/tables/deathdetails_top100.php

[6] Environmental Working Group, California County-wide distribution of mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths, http://reports.ewg.org/reports/asbestos/maps/government_data.php

[7] The Fresno Bee, April 15, 1965, section A page 3

[8] Department of Conservation, letter to the Governor supporting selection of serpentine as the state rock, April 16, 1965

[9] EPA Superfund Redevelopment Program, 1999, http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/recycle/success/casestud/coalsi.htm

[10] EPA Hazard Summary, January, 2000, http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/asbestos.html

[11] California statutes, Subchapter 7. General Industry Safety Orders Group 16. Control of Hazardous Substances Article 110. Regulated Carcinogens ยง5208. Asbestos,

[12] EPA, August 18, 2004 press release, http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/9e50770d29adb32685257018004d06fd/4