Saturday, July 03, 2010

In defense of serpentine

There is a move by asbestos activists and litigators in California to remove the status of state rock from serpentine. The language of the bill is heavy on the health effects of asbestos, particularly amphibole asbestos (which has no relation to serpentine at all). It makes some completely inaccurate statements, such as the allegation that all serpentines contain asbestos. It downplays, or completely ignores several of the key benefits of serpentine. So, three simple reasons why serpentine is great:

1. Serpentine sequesters CO2. Under atmospheric conditions, serpentine reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to form magnesite + quartz + water, via numerous intermediate hydrous magnesium carbonates. Mineral carbonation of serpentine is one of the most promising methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
2. Serpentine prevents earthquakes. In central California, the portion of the San Andreas fault that cuts through serpentine bedrock does not suffer from catastrophic earthquakes. Instead it slowly and peacefully creeps. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed 63 people, could have been as big as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which killed more than 3000 people, were it not for the presence of serpentine (and alteration products) in the fault to the south of the rupture area.
3. Serpentine may be responsible for life on Earth. The formation of serpentine from the reaction between water and the Earth’s mantle releases hydrogen gas, which combines with CO2 to form methane and organic molecules. This hydrogen is a food source for methanogens, one of the Earth’s most primitive and ancient life forms, and the unusual chemistry associated with serpentine formation could well have provided the building blocks and energy source for the birth of all of life on earth, including the California state legislature.

In short:
There are 20 forms of serpentine, only one of which is an asbestos mineral.
The very dangerous amphibole asbestos minerals specifically mentioned in the bill are completely unrelated to serpentine.


Safety disclaimer: The inhalation of ANY rock dust is harmful to the lungs. Asbestos dust is particularly dangerous. Do not breathe rock dust.

3 comments:

Nishanta said...

I am shocked at this attempt to de-throne serpentine as CA's 'state rock.' My colleagues and I have dedicated our lives to study these rocks and the rich biological diversity found in habitats overlying these rocks. Most SERPENTINITE contains little to no asbestiform chrysotile and does not pose any significant health risk in its natural state. The fact that chrysotile presents adverse health effects as a reason for removing SERPENTINITE as state rock is as flawed as saying that the Ridge-nosed rattlesnake should be removed as the state reptile of AZ as it is poisonous to humans. The grizzly bear is hazardous to humans too so why is it the state animal? Because we killed it off? UV is clearly more harmful than exposure to SERPENTINITE which contains minimal amounts of chrysotile asbestos, not the tremolite asbestos, which is known to be harmful to health. Health risks, if any, depend on the asbestos type (chrysotile versus tremolite), exposure frequency, and exposure level. All three factors are very low in most SERPENTINITE landscapes around the world, particularly in CA. There are essentially no documented cases of anybody having developed mesothelioma from the casual chrysotile exposure received from naturally-occurring chrysotile found in SERPENTINITE in CA. I urge that SERPENTINITE remain in place as the State Rock. It is part of our natural heritage, one that has served CA well. Clearly, there is more to worry about these days than waste time de-throning a rock!

Nishanta said...

CA is the center for teaching and research surrounding life on serpentine rocks! Find below a list of all the books and major treatments to date of the unique nature of serpentine, here in CA and around the world. It is part of our heritage. We should celebrate it rather than push for policy based on bad science.

Look at the decades of science that has gone into showing how unique serpentine is and how lucky Californians are to have this rock as their state rock!

There is absolutely no science in any of the treatments below to back this claim that all serpentine in CA is toxic to human health.

Key books/articles on serpentine.

Alexander, E. A., Coleman R. G., Keeler-Wolf, T., and Harrison, S. (2006) Serpentine Geoecology
of Western North America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Baker, A. J. M., Proctor, J., and Reeves, R. D. (1992) The Vegetation of Ultramafic(Serpentine) Soils. Intercept, Andover, U.K.

Balkwill, K. (2001) Proceedings: Third international conference on serpentine ecology.
South African Journal of Science, 97 (special issue).

Boyd, R. S., Baker, A. J. M., and Proctor, J. (2004) Ultramafic Rocks: Their Soils, Vegetation,
and Fauna. Science Reviews, St. Albans, U.K.

Brooks, R. R. (1987) Serpentine and Its Vegetation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Chiarucci, A., and Baker, A. J. M. (2007) Proceedings of the fifth international conference
on serpentine ecology. Plant and Soil, 293 (special issue).

Harrison, S. P. and N. Rajakaruna (Eds.). 2010. Serpentine: Evolution and Ecology in a model System. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA . In press.

Jaffré, T., Reeves, R. D., and Becquer, T. (1997) Th e ecology of ultramafic and metalliferous
areas. Proceedings of the second international conference on serpentine ecology.ORSTOM Noumea, Documents Scientifi ques et Techniques III (special issue).

Kruckeberg, A. R. (1984) California Serpentines: Flora, Vegetation, Geology, Soils and Management Problems. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Kruckeberg, A. (2005) Geology and Plant Life. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Proctor, J., and Woodell, S. R. J. (1975) Th e ecology of serpentine soils. Advances in Ecological
Research, 9, 255–366.

Rajakaruna, N., and Boyd, R.(2009) Soil and biota of serpentine: A world view. Proceedings
of the Sixth International Conference on Serpentine Ecology. Northeastern Naturalist,
16 (special issue 5). Eaglehill Press, Steuben, ME.

Rajakaruna, N., Harris, T. B., and Alexander, E. B. (2009). Serpentine geoecology of eastern
North America: A review. Rhodora, 111, 21–108.

Roberts, B. A., and Proctor, J. (1992) Th e Ecology of Areas with Serpentinized Rocks: A World
View. Kluwer, Dordrecht.

SAFFORD, H. D., J. H. VIERS, AND S. P. HARRISION. 2005. Serpentine endemism in the California flora: A database of serpentine affinity. Madrono 52: 222–257.

Read, be informed, before supporting a bill that has no scientific basis!

Nishanta said...

CA is the center for teaching and research surrounding life on serpentine rocks! Find below a list of all the books and major treatments to date of the unique nature of serpentine, here in CA and around the world. It is part of our heritage. We should celebrate it rather than push for policy based on bad science.

Look at the decades of science that has gone into showing how unique serpentine is and how lucky Californians are to have this rock as their state rock!

There is absolutely no science in any of the treatments below to back this claim that all serpentine in CA is toxic to human health.

Key books/articles on serpentine.

Alexander, E. A., Coleman R. G., Keeler-Wolf, T., and Harrison, S. (2006) Serpentine Geoecology
of Western North America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Baker, A. J. M., Proctor, J., and Reeves, R. D. (1992) The Vegetation of Ultramafic(Serpentine) Soils. Intercept, Andover, U.K.


Boyd, R. S., Baker, A. J. M., and Proctor, J. (2004) Ultramafic Rocks: Their Soils, Vegetation,
and Fauna. Science Reviews, St. Albans, U.K.

Brooks, R. R. (1987) Serpentine and Its Vegetation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Harrison, S. P. and N. Rajakaruna (Eds.). 2010. Serpentine: Evolution and Ecology in a model System. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA . In press.


Kruckeberg, A. R. (1984) California Serpentines: Flora, Vegetation, Geology, Soils and Management Problems. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Kruckeberg, A. (2005) Geology and Plant Life. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Proctor, J., and Woodell, S. R. J. (1975) The ecology of serpentine soils. Advances in Ecological
Research, 9, 255–366.

Rajakaruna, N., and Boyd, R.(2009) Soil and biota of serpentine: A world view. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Serpentine Ecology. Northeastern Naturalist,16 (special issue 5). Eaglehill Press, Steuben, ME.


Roberts, B. A., and Proctor, J. (1992) The Ecology of Areas with Serpentinized Rocks: A World
View. Kluwer, Dordrecht.

SAFFORD, H. D., J. H. VIERS, AND S. P. HARRISION. 2005. Serpentine endemism in the California flora: A database of serpentine affinity. Madrono 52: 222–257.

Read, be informed, before supporting a bill that has no scientific basis!