Posts Tagged ‘serpentine asbestos’

Abestos in California State Rock?

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Asbestos had, from antiquity up through the 1970s, been prized for numerous properties.  For one, it’s incredibly lightweight.  When mixed into concrete, it makes that concrete lighter and increases its tensile strength, which makes it easier to transport and means construction companies don’t have to use as much of it.  It was also used extensively in other industries, including the field of shipbuilding, to serve as insulation for pipes, boilers, and throughout buildings, since it’s a very poor conductor of heat.  It’s also an excellent fire retardant.  It comes in two forms, serpentine and crocidolite.

Due to all these attributes, California lawmakers were proud of the possibilities of the mineral, of which it had considerable quantities.  In 1965, serpentine was named the state rock in order to help bolster the burgeoning asbestos mining industry.  Now, according to an article reported in AP, lawmakers are considering stripping serpentine of its privileged status.

It’s hard to disagree with the reasons put forth by Democratic state Senator Gloria Romero, the legislator spearheading the call.  According to her, California has the highest rate of death from mesothelioma in the nation, and it just doesn’t seem right to be celebrating a rock known for containing the lethal mineral.  Indeed, a large part of the reason why serpentine was originally designated the state rock was because of its asbestos content, so one can certainly see Romero’s displeasure at the current state of affairs.

Historically, the rock was crushed to release its asbestos fibers.  Doing so might release the fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled by workers or can settle on their clothing to be inhaled by someone in the home.  Once inhaled, asbestos fibers cannot be broken down by the body, leading, after a latency period of anywhere from 10 to 50 years, to uncontrolled growth of mesothelium cells.  Once this uncontrolled growth starts, the disease spreads rapidly and devastatingly.  After the onset of mesothelioma, victims’ life expectancies are often measured in months.